Romania Set to Hold Referendum on the Definition of Marriage

On Monday, Romania’s Constitutional Court approved a proposal passed by the country’s parliament last week to hold a referendum on the definition of “family.” The Court’s decision allows a referendum to be organized next month, which could allow voters to amend the current definition of family into one that would provide constitutional protection only to different-sex couples. This would effectively prevent the legalization of same-sex unions. The Court ruled on the proposal seven to two.

It comes after the country’s senate cleared the proposal with a 107-13 vote on September 11. Most political parties support organizing the referendum, as do most church groups. In 2016, a group called the Coalition for Family gathered 3 million signatures to hold the referendum. It needed 500,000 to be considered. This followed similar organizing by groups in Croatia, Slovenia, and other European countries.

The lower house of Romania’s bicameral legislature passed its version last year. The ruling party in Romania has said that the referendum could possibly be held as early as October 7, according to Reuters.

The change would alter the current wording from “The family is founded on the freely consented marriage of the spouses, their full equality, as well as the right and duty of the parents to ensure the upbringing, education, and instruction of their children” and replace “spouses” with a reference to a man and a woman..

Vlad Viski, Executive Director of LGBTQ-rights group MozaiQ in Bucharest, tells INTO that they are confused as to the timing of the referendum since this has been an ongoing situation.

“We are also asking ourselves “Why now?” Viski says. He believes it may be because of recent protests against corruption and police violence in Romania as well as internal fighting within the government-leading Social Democratic Party.

“It’s them trying to move the attention and the topics discussed in the public arena onto something else,” Viski tells INTO. He adds that it’s also due to influence from conservative, religious groups from the United States that have been involved, he says, in working with the Coalition for Family as well as the other similar movements in the region.

MozaiQ and other groups are now mobilizing in Bucharest and in other parts of Romania, focusing on online campaigns against the referendum as well as planning protests.

“Throughout the last three years, we’ve constantly organized political protests against the referendum. In 2016, in June, when the Constitutional Court green-lighted the initiative, we went out into the streets and protested,” Viski says. These protests are new in Romania for LGBTQ people and their allies since Pride was the only physical manifestation until recently.

“Now you see a mobilization for the past 3 years with the community coming out onto the streets in more political contexts,” Viski explains. “Pride was also seen as this happy, depoliticized event so it was important for us to shake things up a bit.”

The LGBTQ rights organizations in Bucharest are organizing the coming protests and campaigns with other LGBTQ groups in Cluj, Timisoara, and smaller cities and towns. Viski says that even though people in those less populated areas in Romania are less likely to be out, there will still be resources available for those wanting to campaign against the referendum.

International groups have criticized the referendum calling it a violation of LGBTQ Romanians’ rights and as against international human rights norms.

“This referendum is essentially asking people to approve discriminating against their neighbors, colleagues, friends and family members,” Katrin Hugendubel, ILGA-Europe’s Advocacy Director said in a statement. “Rainbow families, diverse family groups, loving families living in Romania right now are all threatened by this proposal. Today, ILGA-Europe would like to reassure the diversity of families in Romania that we see you, we support you and will continue to stand with you.”

The organization’s Litigation Officer, Arpi Avetisyan, said that the country must protect all its citizens, LGBTQ or not and that the definition of “family” being pushed by the referendum’s supporters is untrue.

“It only captures a very limited fraction of what family means to people in 2018. And it is also very out-of-step with reality and with the diversity of families being recognised by international human rights bodies and European courts,” Avetisyan said.

Global human rights group Amnesty International has also come forward condemning the referendum.

“The mooted referendum to change the definition of family in Romania’s constitution could lead to a breach of international human rights standards and pander to homophobic discrimination in the country,” an Amnesty International representative said, the AFP reports.

Same-sex civil partnerships are already banned in Romania’s civil code, according to Reuters. The European Court of Justice ruled in June that EU states are obligated to provide same-sex spouses residency like different-sex couples, regardless of whether or not the country has legalized same-sex marriage.

Image via Getty

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