В едно от най-четените издания в София от страна на английско-говорящи, бизнесмени и дипломати, на две големи страници, излезе статията „We are family?“ , в която беше широко засегната темата за съжителствата без брак, както и интервю със Стоян Георгиев. Това е вероятно най-внушителният материал в защита на брачната институция, публикуван в България. Огромни благодарности на Петър Костадинов и Sofia Echo за осигурената платформа!
On May 27, a group of citizens protested at a forum organised by the Economic and Social Council (ESC) in Sofia.
The group said that they were protesting against a proposal put to the ESC that would give cohabiting couples the same status in law as married couples.
The protesters chose the ESC forum because the ESC represents various economic and social organisations in expressing civil society’s views on fundamental economic and social policy issues in Bulgaria.
„To us, giving the same rights to unmarried couples as married couples is a fundamental change in Bulgaria’s Family Code. A change that will affect the family institution in the country and that is why we decided to protest against it,“ Stoyan Georgiev, the man behind the group of protesters, told The Sofia Echo.
According to Georgiev, the person behind the idea was Hristina Hristova, who was social policy minister from 2003 to 2005 and currently is an MP for the National Movement for Stability and Progress (formerly known as the National Movement Simeon II).
Hristova, Georgiev said, had put her ideas about changing the Family Code on her website, www.semeistvoto.net.
„When we heard about Hristova’s idea, we simply decided to organise ourselves and take some action against it,“ Georgiev said.
This was how the Protect the Family and Civil Marriage citizen’s forum was born, Stoyanov said.
„It was a spontaneous reaction. We are not some kind of a political or economic organisation, just a group of friends who formed a citizen’s initiative just because we wanted to express our opinion.“
Stoyanov says that he has no financial interest in the matter. „In fact, we are losing time and money in raising these questions, but we are determined to go out in the streets if we are not heard.“
According to Stoyanov, Hristova’s idea will have devastating consequences for the family institution in Bulgaria.
„This will be a violation of the constitution as well, because it says that `only a civil marriage shall be legal’. It also says that „Spouses shall have equal rights and obligations in matrimony and the family“ and according to Georgiev, Hristova wanted this provision changed.
The Sofia Echo asked Hristova to respond to Georgiev’s statements.
„Yes, I have heard about those people. I just want to say that I am not dealing with any change to the Family Code, and I do not know why these people are reacting this way. What I am working on is a draft bill on the Bulgarian family,“ Hristova said.
„I am working for the protection of the Bulgarian family, not against it, and there is not a single line in our document that says something about making marriages and unmarried couples equal in the eyes of the law,“ she said. Hristova’s draft bill dealt with obligations of national government and municipalities towards the family institution.
„As for the people who have been protesting, I must say that I know little about them. What I have heard is that they are from some religious group,“ Hristova said.
So who is Stoyan Georgiev, the man who has taken up the responsibility to defend civil marriage in Bulgaria?
First, Georgiev is married with two daughters. Together with his wife, Snezhina, Georgiev edits the website www.semeistvo.bg which offers advice and professional help to families in trouble.
„I am a family consultant, and together with a team of specialists, we try to give people in need appropriate advice about their family life,“ he said.
„I find Hristova’s words very strange, because in December last year she said on her website that giving equal legal rights to married and unmarried couples would be among the priorities of her draft bill.“
As for Hristova’s assertion that the group had a religious affiliation, Georgiev said „My wife and I have been Protestants for more than 15 years, I personally work with children, but my difference of opinion with Hristova’s idea is purely on a professional basis, and I have never used my religious beliefs as an argument. I am not in this field of work because I want to preach some religious values. I am simply concerned about the status of the Bulgarian family,“ he said.
Indeed, on Georgiev’s website, it is extremely difficult to discern any hint of a religious message.
Georgiev started dealing with family consultancy eight years ago. He has a bachelor’s degree in education and is currently obtaining a degree in family therapy. „Actually, I started dealing with parents first. However, at one point I saw that there was a deep need for a family consultancy in Bulgaria. After all, a good family environment is crucial for raising children,“ he said.
Whatever plans there may or may not be, and leaving aside the rival claims of Georgiev and Hristova, the question about whether unmarried couples should be given equal legal rights as those of married couples remains open. Georgiev, as a family consultant interested in the issue, seems an appropriate person to comment.
„First, some people say that not giving the same rights to unmarried couples is a form of discrimination. At the ESC forum on May 27, we were accused of protecting our territory, and being hostile to unmarried couples, a claim with which I strongly disagree,“ Georgiev said.
He said that giving the same legal rights to unmarried couples as spouses would not strengthen their positions but would weaken the position of married couples and it did not make any sense to do this.
„I think that the state should be taking care of married families, not trying to undermine their existence. All researchers in the world say that this is the inevitable outcome of such a step in every country that has taken it.“
Georgiev offers data: according to 1998 research by Ermisch and Francesconi, the relationships of unmarried couples in the UK lasted less than two years, with only four per cent lasting more than 10 years. According to Kiernan and Estaugh’s 1993 research, also in the UK, 84 per cent of unmarried couples separated after the first five years. The possibility of unmarried parents separating is four to five times higher than for married couples, according to a 1999 survey by Boheim and Ermisch. Kiernan claims that five per cent of married couples separate in the first five years after the birth of a child, while the rate in unmarried couples is 52 per cent. In the US, only 10 per cent of unmarried couples stay together after the first five years.
„I think that everybody would agree that the presence of both biological parents is among the factors for raising happy children,“ Georgiev said.
For Georgiev the issue has different aspects. He quotes Edward Launmann, John Gagnon, Robert Michael, Stuart Michaels and their report The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the USA, published by University of Chicago Press in 1994, according to which 20 per cent of women who are part of an unmarried couple have a second sexual partner, while this rate in married couples is four per cent.
„The rate of domestic violence in unmarried couples is higher than in married couples,“ Georgiev says, quoting Linda Waite’s 2000 survey.
„Violence among unmarried partners is four times higher than among married partners in the US.“
Patrica Schnitzer and Bernard Ewigman, in their book Child Deaths Resulting From Inflicted Injuries: Household Risk Factors and Perpetrator Characteristics, say that there is 48 per cent higher risk of children dying where the mother lives with a partner who is not the biological father, compared to married couples.
„Marriage is among the conditions for success,“ Georgiev says.
He shares the opinion of Janet Wilmoth and Gregor Koso, who claim in their book Does Marital History Matter, Journal of Marriage and Family that married people are richer than unmarried people.
„According to Thomas Stanley, more than 50 per cent of the millionaires in the US have at least three children and have never been divorced.
„I want to make this clear. I do not believe that unmarried couples in Bulgaria are behind Hristova’s idea. At the forum, I heard Hristova saying that unmarried couples should have the same rights as married couples in terms of social and health securities and parental rights. In fact unmarried couples already have parental rights,“ he said.
From the moment the father recognises the child as his own, he acquires rights over the child, Georgiev said.
„So this is not an issue. As for the moment with inheritance there is an easy solution: the father simply has to make a will and the issue will be solved. So you see there is no need to make new legislation for unmarried couples, because it is already there. My intention is not to make unmarried couples go and marry. I just do not want married couples to feel undermined,“ he said.
Georgiev says that married couples are, in a way, discriminated against.
„For example, a single mother today in Bulgaria is entitled to more financial relief than a married woman. Once I spoke to a Roma woman and my arguments in support of the institution of marriage looked kind of ridiculous to her, because the state gives her more money if she is not married. This is what I am talking about. The marriage institution is simply undermined by the state and there is no need for more support for the unmarried couples.“
The other factor, besides the negligence of the authorities, according to Georgiev is the media, who do not care about the family.
There is a simple example: the new franchise reality show soon to debut on one of Bulgaria’s national privately-owned commercial television stations, Nova Televisia. In Temptation Island, four unmarried couples travel to an exotic location to test the strength of their relationship. When couples arrive at the exotic location, they are separated and presented with 26 attractive singles. When the whole story finishes, they all get back together around a bonfire where they decide about the future of their relationships.
„This is what I am talking about,“ Georgiev says. „Most people in Bulgaria do not tend to inform themselves by reading, watching or listening to different sources of information. People tend to choose one media and stick to it, believing almost everything that comes on. Nova Televisia enjoys a huge audience and when such reality is shown to the people most of them take it as the real thing, and this is the responsibility of the media,“ he said.
Advertising agencies should also be careful about the messages they spread, Georgiev says. „We all know about the advertising billboards of a certain brand of Bulgarian vodka that can be seen on Sofia’s streets showing naked women in provocative positions.“
Inevitably, when talking about the family institution, the church and its position on the issue come up.
In Georgiev’s case, this is even more interesting, because he is Protestant in a mainly Orthodox Christian country.
„Yes, we have spoken to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and they share our position on this issue. Unfortunately the Orthodox church in Bulgaria is not very active when it comes to such debates, unlike Roman Catholics. For this reason we will search for their (the Catholics’) help in order to get our voice heard.“
What better proof of Georgiev’s will to act as a professional rather than a religious person could there be than his views on how different religious movements can work together in the name of something sacred?
„If we all pull out our religious book, the Bible or Koran and start preaching, we will achieve nothing. For me it does not matter what religion you follow, as long as it keeps the family together.“
As for the foreign experience, Georgiev says that Europe is divided on the issue of married and unmarried couples.
„I do not think that if some European Union countries have adopted some legislation which gives more rights to unmarried couples, as Sweden has, we should apply it here in Bulgaria as well. After all, not everything that comes from the EU is good for Bulgaria.“
„I want to make this clear. We are not defending the marriage institution as the only way two people can live together. If there are insurmountable problems in a marriage, such as infidelity or domestic violence, then the natural outcome is the divorce. As a family consultant I have given advice to women in trouble to leave their husbands and file for divorce.“
Anyone going to Georgiev with a problem will find that he will first try to help avoid the divorce option.
„For me financial issues are the main cause of divorce, not only in Bulgaria but elsewhere in the world as well. By this, I mean the inability to organise the family budget, which eventually leads to problems.“
He gives the example of one of the people who consulted him.
„He was earning 1200 leva a month, which is good money for a Bulgarian, but because he did not follow a certain plan, he went into debt because of mortgages, vehicle loans, and so on. At the end of the month, after consolidating his debts, this man had a total of 100 leva left from his salary.“ In the US, 80 per cent of divorces are not because of infidelities but because of financial problems, Georgiev says.
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