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Pro-LGBT boycotters foil Romanian referendum on marriage

LGBT advocates demonstrate against a constitutional referendum in Bucharest, Romania, on Sept. 30, 2018. “Because the interests behind this referendum are other than the well-being of the Romanian society and families in their diversity, this campaign has brought forward the ugliest facets of Romanian politics and power-hungry churches," said Victor Ciobotariu, from Accept, a group advocating for LGBT rights in Romania. “The LGBT community became the scapegoat of this campaign that exacerbates collective fears instead of correctly informing the people about the referendum. Divide et impera.” RNS photo by Alexandra Radu

BUCHAREST, Romania (RNS) — Romanians were given the chance over the weekend to change the definition of marriage in the national constitution to read “union between a man and a woman” from the current language, which specifies only a “union between spouses.”

But with less than 21 percent of Romanians voting over the two days of the referendum, the initiative was rendered void, a victory for LGBT rights groups that had urged a boycott of the vote. A 30 percent turnout was needed to validate the referendum measure.

“The LGBT community in Romania boycotted this referendum because we believe human rights should not be the subject of a popular vote,” said Vlad Levente Viski from MozaiQ, a group advocating for LGBT rights in Romania. “Moreover, the boycott was a protest against the Church, against populist politicians, against the wave of hatred directed at us. We were confident Romanians would not be manipulated into validating with their vote this referendum.”

The change was proposed in 2016 by a conservative group called the Coalition for Family and quickly gained support from the Romanian Orthodox Church. The coalition had gathered 3 million signatures on its petition, far more than the required amount to qualify for the ballot.

Human rights and LGBT groups in Romania claimed the definition of family in the measure would increase discrimination  toward not only  same-sex couples but also single parents or children raised by other relatives.

In response, the Coalition for Family took on a campaign focusing on the preservation of the “traditional family” and against LGBT.

Romanian civil law clearly states marriage is the union between “a man and a woman” and the referendum would not have impacted judicial rulings. Representatives of the Coalition for Family were nonetheless concerned. “Laws can be changed overnight without the agreement of the people,” said Pavel Chirila, founding member of the Coalition for Family.

Voters head toward a polling station at a middle school in Bucharest, Romania, on Oct. 7, 2018. Romania is one of the last countries in the EU that does not recognize any form of civil union between same-sex persons. RNS photo by Alexandra Radu

“The people want the notion of marriage between a man and a woman clearly defined in the constitution and nowhere else, because this has been coherent with the moral values of our religion for the last 2,000 years.”

Neither the urging of the Romanian church nor government maneuvering in favor of the referendum — the voting was originally scheduled to last only one day, with a minimum participation rate of 50 percent, before the ruling Social Democrats changed the rules — was enough to overcome the opposition.

This story is available for republication.

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Alexandra Radu

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