Page last updated at 22:37 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 23:37 UK

Albania 'to approve gay marriage'

By Mark Lowen
BBC Balkans correspondent

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha speaks in parliament (4 July 2009)
Mr Berisha said discrimination had to end in Albania

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha has announced his party will propose a law legalising same-sex marriage.

It is an unexpected move in a country that is still one of the most conservative in Europe and where homosexuality was illegal until 1995.

Mr Berisha acknowledged the proposed law might provoke debate but maintained that discrimination in modern Albania had to end.

The bill was drawn up by a group of non-governmental organisations.

It has been accepted by Mr Berisha's Democratic Party and will now come before parliament in the autumn.

In a predominantly Muslim country with almost no open homosexual community, the announcement by a conservative PM has taken people by surprise.

Goran Miletic, a Belgrade-based human rights lawyer, working partly on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues said it was an important step forward for the country.

"(It is) encouraging for the LGBT community in Albania, bearing in mind that they are not visible comparing to some other Balkan states like Serbia, like Macedonia or Croatia."

But he said he did not think the law would be passed easily in the face of immediate opposition from religious communities

The reaction by Islamic and Catholic leaders has been vehement.

Under the isolationist rule of Enver Hoxha, Albania was officially an atheist state.

But since the fall of Communism almost two decades ago, religion has once again grown and its leaders' voices are influential.

Albania, though, has set its sights firmly on the goal of European Union membership, and it seems this proposed law is aimed at showing Brussels a progressive new image.

If it is passed in the autumn, it could move the country one step further on its European path.

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