LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans and Turkey
LGBTI rights in Croatia have expanded in recent years, but LGBTI persons may still face some legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBTI residents. The majority of population is still strongly affected by the religious views of the dominant Catholic Church in the country, which are perceived as discriminatory to LGBTI communities. Reduced support for LGBTI CSOs and independent media voices was a cause of concern for activists in Croatia. Government funding for the Zagreb Pride was cut for the first time in 2017. Community media outlets, including LGBTI websites, also lost institutional support.
I. Legal Framework
Equality before the law based on different personal grounds is enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia. Sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics are not explicitly mentioned, however the article contains a phrase “or other personal grounds” which keeps an open list of different personal grounds.
Both male and female same-sex sexual activity was legalized in Croatia in 1977 with the introduction of Croatia's own penal code.
Age of Consent
Same sex sexual acts are legal and the age of consent is the same as for different sex sexual acts, namely 15 years. The age of consent was equalized in 1998.
II. Equality and Non-Discrimination
The 2008 Anti-Discrimination Law includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression on the list of protected categories against discrimination when it comes to access to either public and private services, or to access to establishments serving the public. Other anti-discrimination directives that prohibit discrimination based on gender, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation have been included in various pieces of legislation since 2003, including Penal Code, Gender Equality Law, Media Law, Labour Law, Asylum Law etc. On 1 January 2013 new Penal Code has been introduced with the recognition of a hate crime based on gender identity. Intersex persons are not recognized by any law.
On the executive level of government, the Office for Gender Equality of the Government of Republic Croatia takes over the promotion and respect of human rights in terms of recommending legal and policy solutions for improving their status, while the Ombudswoman for Gender Equality takes over the supervision of the implementation of legal provisions about banning discrimination and receiving citizen complaints on the grounds of discrimination.
National Action Plans
Croatia still has no specific LGBTI National Action Plan.
III. Social Perceptions (homophobia and transphobia)
Croatian LGBTI individuals still experience discrimination. The majority of population is still strongly affected by the religious views of the dominant Catholic Church in the country, which are perceived as discriminatory to LGBTI communities.
Polls and Surveys
A poll in June 2011 showed that 38.3% of citizens supported the holding of gay pride events, while 53.5% remained opposed.
Eurobarometer Discrimination in the EU in 2015 report concluded the following: 48% of people in Croatia believe that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people should have the same rights as heterosexual people, and 37% of them believe same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe. When asked about having a gay, lesbian or bisexual person in the highest elected political position results were as follows: 40% of the respondents were comfortable with the idea, 13% moderately comfortable, 6% indifferent, 38% uncomfortable, and 3% didn't know. When asked the same question about transgender or transsexual person results were as follows: 33% were comfortable with the idea, 15% moderately comfortable, 40% uncomfortable, 6% indifferent, and 5% didn't know. 64% of respondents agreed that school lessons and material should include information about diversity in terms of sexual orientation, and 63% agreed the same about gender identity.
In May 2016 ILGA published a survey about attitudes towards LGBT people conducted in 53 UN members (12 of those were European countries, including Croatia). When asked whether homosexuality should be a crime, 68% of people in Croatia strongly disagreed with that (second highest percentage after the Netherlands where 70% of people strongly disagreed), 4% somewhat disagreed, 19% were neutral, 4% somewhat agreed, and 5% strongly agreed (the lowest percentage of people who strongly agreed among European countries included in the survey). Furthermore, when asked whether they would be concerned about having a LGBT neighbor, 75% of people said they would have no concerns, 15% would be somewhat uncomfortable, and 10% very uncomfortable.
The most recent poll by Pew Research Center published in May 2017 suggests that 31% of Croatians are in favor of same-sex marriage, while 64% oppose the idea. Support was higher among non-religious people (61%) than among Catholics (29%). Younger people are more likely than their elders to favor legal gay marriage (33% vs. 30%).
IV. Hate crimes and hate speech
Since 2006 the country has had hate crime legislation in place which covers sexual orientation. The law was first applied in 2007, when a man who violently attacked the Zagreb Pride parade using Molotov cocktails was convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison. On 1 January 2013 new Penal Code has been introduced with the recognition of a hate crime based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
V. Family Rights
Same-sex relationships have legally been recognized since 2003, when the Same-sex community law was passed. The law granted same-sex partners who have been cohabiting for at least 3 years similar rights to those enjoyed by unmarried cohabiting opposite-sex partners in terms of inheritance and financial support. However, the right to adopt was not included, nor any other rights included under family law – instead separate legislation has been created to deal with this point. In addition it was not permitted to formally register these same-sex relationships, nor to claim additional rights in terms of tax, joint property, health insurance, pensions etc.
Although same-sex marriages have been banned since the 2013 constitutional referendum, the twelfth government of Croatia introduced the Life Partnership act in 2014, which granted same-sex couples the same rights and obligations heterosexual married couples have, excluding the ability to adopt children. However, the separate legislation does provide same-sex couples with a mechanism similar to step-child adoption called "partner-guardianship".
Since the introduction of the Life Partnership Act in 2014, same-sex couples have effectively enjoyed rights equal to heterosexual married couples in everything except adoption rights.
Adoption (joint adoption and second parent adoption) and family planning
Full joint adoption for same-sex couples in Croatia is not legal, but a single person regardless of sexual orientation is allowed to adopt. However, the Life Partnership Act recognizes an institution similar to stepchild adoption called partner-guardianship.
Official surrogacy for same-sex couples
Legal restrictions (Constitution etc.)
In only the third referendum ever held in Croatia in December 2013, 65 per cent of voters backed the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, obliging parliament to amend the constitution.
VI. COURT CASES
Following a four-year legal battle with public authorities, an 18-year-old boy was allowed to change his personal documents without undergoing sterilising gender reassignment surgery. With his mother’s support, the boy had followed hormonal therapy and had lived in his true gender for a long time. His mother led a legal battle to change his documents without an operation, which authorities insisted on despite the law not requiring it. The Constitutional Court of Croatia eventually ruled that the Ministry of Public Administration had to change the documents. Several bodies, including the Ministry of Health and the National Health Council, amended their procedures to reflect the new jurisprudence.
VII. Trans and Intersex rights
Current legal and social situation
Gender transition is legal in Croatia, and birth certificates may be legally amended to recognise this. Up until June 2013 the change of gender always had to be stated on an individual's birth certificate. However, on 29 May 2012 it was announced that the government would take extra steps to protect transsexual and transgender people. Under the new rules, the undertaking of sex reassignment surgery no longer has to be stated on an individual's birth certificate, thus ensuring that such information remains private. This is also the case for people who have not formally undergone sex reassignment surgery, but have nevertheless undertaken hormone replacement therapy.
Croatia does not require medical procedures, such as sterilization, surgical interventions, or hormonal treatment, as preconditions for legal gender recognition. However, in Croatia, a mental disorder diagnosis, an assessment of time lived in the new gender identity, and a single civil status (forcing those who are married to get divorced) are required before changes can be made in official documents. Because of these onerous requirements, many transgender people still have documents that do not match their gender identity and consequently face serious difficulties accessing services and facilities.
Following a four-year legal battle with public authorities, an 18-year-old boy was allowed to change his personal documents without undergoing sterilizing gender reassignment surgery. With his mother’s support, the boy had followed hormonal therapy and had lived in his true gender for a long time. His mother led a legal battle to change his documents without an operation, which authorities insisted on despite the law not requiring it. The Constitutional Court of Croatia eventually ruled that the Ministry of Public Administration had to change the documents. Several bodies, including the Ministry of Health and the National Health Council, amended their procedures to reflect the new jurisprudence
Access to gender reassignment procedures
Gender reassignment procedures cannot be fully completed in the country, and individuals have to travel abroad to complete them.
Anti-discrimination laws in employment exist since 2003.
LGBT education in schools (current findings and resources)
Religious education in schools in Croatia plays significant role. A considerable part of religious education is about relationships and sexuality, but it does not teach positively towards same-sex relationships.
Editors published new textbooks, reflecting slight changes that NGOs had requested. In previous years, lesbian NGO Kontra had complained to the Ministry of Education and the Ombudswoman for Gender Equality that some books (mostly for religious education) featured homophobic content, but also that homosexuality was only ever mentioned in the context of HIV/AIDS education. One religious textbook republished this year “With Christ to Life” removed a sentence previously claiming that medicine hadn’t properly investigated homosexuality.
The Zagreb Administrative Court insisted that the Supreme Court reach a decision in a 2009 case, in which LGBTI NGOs sued a religion teacher who taught pupils that homosexuality was a disease. The lower court requested a ruling within six months.
A survey conducted in 2018 showed that LGBTI people face discrimination when using or trying to access healthcare services because of being LGBTI. 16 % had foregone treatment for fear of discrimination or intolerant reactions and 12% had difficulties looking for or finding an LGBTI-friendly health practitioner in Croatia.
XII. Public Events
The first pride in Croatia took place on 29 June 2002 in the capital city of Zagreb. Public support is growing and number of participants is also increasing rapidly year after year, but the marches have also experienced violent public opposition. The first LGBT pride in Split took place on 11 June 2011. However, the march proved problematic as official security was not strong enough to prevent serious incidents, as a result of which LGBT attendees had to be led to safety. Several hundred anti-gay protesters were arrested, and the event was eventually cancelled. Today, both prides are held with no major incidents. Other pride events took place in Rijeka and Osijek.
Other visible public events (bike ride, festivals with high impact)
On 17 May 2018, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, activists demonstrated at the site of the violent 2011 Pride march in Split, asking for the reintroduction of ‘violent behaviour’ in the Criminal Code
XIII. LGBTI rights movement
Short history of movement
Constitutional reforms in Yugoslavia in 1974 resulted in the abolishment of the federal Penal Code, allowing every republic to create its own. The Socialist Republic of Croatia created its own Code in 1977, and decriminalized homosexual activity. The Croatian Medical Chamber removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973 – four years before the introduction of the new Penal Code, and seventeen years before the World Health Organization did the same.
During the 80s, in the then socialist Croatia, the first lesbian group Lila Initiative originated from the feminist and women’s movement. Some of its members formed the lesbian group Kontra in the second half of the nineties. Except for Kontra, there was also LIGMA (Lesbian and Gay - Man Action).
The 1990s brought a slowdown in terms of the progression of LGBT rights mainly as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia followed by the Croatian War of Independence when many Croatian LGBT people, then involved in various feminist, peace and green organizations, joined the anti-war campaign within Croatia.
The 2000s proved a turning point for LGBT history in Croatia with the formation of several LGBT associations and the first gay pride event in Zagreb in 2002 during which a group of extremists attacked a number of marchers. Despite that, later marches drew thousands of participants without incidents.
Organizations present and active in the country
Queer Sport Split
Expanse of Gender and Media Culture Common Zone
Iskorak - Sexual and gender minorities rights center
Lesbian Group Kontra
Lesbian organization Rijeka - LORI
Rispet - LGBT Association Split
Trans Aid - Association for promoting and protecting the rights of trans, inter and gender variant persons
Women's Room - Center for Sexual Rights
LGBTI people leaving the country
LGBTI people seeking asylum in the country
XV. Role of the European Union
Croatia is a member of the EU since 1 July 2013.
A string of legal changes in the process of adjusting Croatian legislation with the European and the harmonization of the work of Croatian institutions in accordance with the new norms started in 2003. This was the year when the Croatian Parliament adopted the Gender Equality Act and a string of antidiscrimination amendments to the already existing laws.
The financial support that the European Union provided to LGBTIQ associations and organizations for human rights in the form of support of their projects is also a significant factor in strengthening the protection and promotion of human rights of LGTIQ people in Croatia.
A 2010 resolution by the European Parliament expressed concern at the resentment against the LGBT minority in Croatia, evidenced most recently by homophobic attacks on participants in the LGBT Pride parade in Zagreb; urges the Croatian authorities to condemn and prosecute political hatred and violence against any minority; and invites the Croatian Government to implement and enforce the Anti-Discrimination Law.
XVI. Croatia internationally
International agreements, declarations and resolutions
Croatia has signed the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in 2008. It has signed and ratified Protocol 12 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms for a General Prohibition of Discrimination.
Cooperation with international partners (CoE, UN on LGBTI rights etc)
The 2019 ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map places Albania in the 17th position (out of 49 countries) with 51% of the index which reflects the national legal and policy human rights situation of LGBTI people in Europe. This ranking however does not reflect social or public perceptions about LGBTI people or their living conditions overall.