WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's parliament defeated draft laws on Friday that would have given limited legal rights to homosexual couples, a setback for liberals trying to challenge conservative moral attitudes in the devoutly Catholic country.
Poland has been grappling with issues such as gay rights, abortion, legalization of soft drugs and the role of the church in public life as younger Poles seeking a more secular society clash with a deeply religious older generation.
The lower house of parliament rejected three bills that would have legalized civil unions, including narrowly defeating one proposed by a member of the ruling Civic Platform that would have given limited rights to unmarried partners, including ability to inherit property.
The motion to prevent the Civic Platform bill from going to committees for further work was backed by 228 deputies, with 211 against.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk spoke out in favor of the reform, but 46 members of his own party, including Justice Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, sided with the conservative opposition and voted against all three bills on their first reading.
"You can't question the existence of such people (living in homosexual partnerships) and you can't argue against the people who decide to live in such way," Tusk told the parliament before the votes.
Robert Biedron, Poland's first openly gay deputy who had proposed the most comprehensive of the three rejected bills, vowed to continue leading the efforts to give legal rights to unmarried partners, both same-sex and heterosexual.
"Changes are coming," Biedron told Reuters television. "More and more people see that maybe there is injustice in treating people that live in unregistered partnerships and who cannot solve their fundamental problems, everyday problems."
Even though a growing number of governments around the world have given at least some rights to homosexual couples, many church leaders and conservative politicians have argued that such moves could undermine the institution of marriage.
Earlier in January, the Catholic Church backed protests against plans to legalize same-sex marriage in France.
Many Polish opponents of state recognition for same-sex partnerships say it is wrong to encourage unions that cannot produce children, and so do nothing to fix the country's declining population.
"Are sexual ties the only reason why society should finance a barren existence?" said Krystyna Pawlowicz of the opposition Law and Justice party, "Society cannot finance structures and institutions, which do not allow for society to last."
(Reporting by Chris Borowski and Marcin Goettig)