ISSN 2330-717X

Romania: Family Referendum Fails To Meet Turnout Threshold

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By Ana Maria Luca

Romanian conservative organizations and the Orthodox Church failed to mobilize enough voters to pass a referendum aiming to change the definition of the family in the constitution to “the union between a man and a woman.”

Romanian human rights activists and some politicians cheered on Sunday night as a referendum aiming to change the constitution so that it would only allow marriage between a man and a woman has failed to overcome the 30 per cent turnout threshold.

Despite the government keeping polling stations open for two days and the country’s powerful Orthodox Church making efforts to mobilize supporters, only 20.4 per cent of Romanians cast ballots on Saturday and Sunday.

“We showed that we, as citizens, want a Romania based upon democratic values, a country where respect, equality and common sense guides society,” Romanian LGBT rights organization Accept said in a press release sent to the media.

“We have been demonized for three years,” Vlad Viski, director of MosaiQ LGBT rights organization said on Sunday, as a handful of activists celebrated in a pub in central Bucharest. “This is a signal that Romanians are not a people who like to hate. And it’s a signal for the Orthodox Church that religion has no place in politics,” he added.

Romanians were called to the polls after three years of intense political debates over LGBT rights, after the conservative Coalition for the Family – an umbrella organization for right-wing and church-backed NGOs – raised 3.2 million signatures and submitted a bill to parliament to ban gay marriage in the constitution.

Romanian Civil Code adopted in 2009 already bans same-sex marriage.

Despite calls from local and international rights organizations to drop the bill that has been deemed an infringement of human rights, the Romanian Senate voted in favour of the referendum on September 11, after the lower chamber approved it in June 2017.

The Social Democratic Party, which holds a large majority in parliament, amended the referendum law in the summer to lower the participation threshold from 50 per cent to only 30 per cent.

The government also decided at the end of September to allow two days for the vote, in order to increase the participation rate.

Although over 19 million Romanians were called to the polls, the participation was very low on Saturday, only 5.72 per cent. It increased on Sunday afternoon after the powerful Romanian Orthodox Church called on supporters to vote. Patriarch Daniel told believers during his sermon on Sunday that voting was an “honour”.

However, many civil society activists and human rights organizations called for a boycott of the plebiscite.

The Coalition for the Family expressed outrage on Sunday at the low voting turnout. In a statement sent to the press on Sunday afternoon, the organization said that Romanian political factions have generally boycotted the family referendum by not lowering the turnout threshold enough when they voted on the new referendum bill.

The organization also accused the government of “organizing the referendum in a superficial and unprofessional manner, as not even elementary information over the object of the referendum was communicated to the Romanian public.”

The Catholic Church also stressed in a statement on Sunday night that, despite the low turnout, “at the base of the family lied the consented union between a man and a woman.”

Some opposition parties hailed the result of the referendum. Leader of Save Romania Union Dan Barna told journlaists on Sunday nigh that the result shows that “Romania is a European, tolerant country.”

Liberal leader Ludovic Orban, however, blamed the lack of popularity of the ruling Social Democrats for the failure of the “marriage” referendum. “This was the Romanians’ impeachment vote for the Social Democrat Party,” he said.

Secretary-General of the ruling Social Democrat Party Condrin Stefanescu said that the referendum was “a failure of Romanians and of Romania in general”.

“It was an important matter, maybe two weeks for the promotion campaign was not enough, we needed more debate,” he told journalists.

Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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