Gay marriage referendum: Romania stays home

Gay marriage referendum: Romania stays home
© iStock/ Augustin Lazaroiu

A controversial gay marriage referendum in Romania, which aimed to restrict the legal definition of marriage to include only straight relationships, has failed due to low voter turnout.

The gay marriage referendum would have been considered legitimate if more than 30 per cent of the electorate voted, but only 20.4 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots; rather than voter apathy, the result appears to be due to a deliberate campaign by activists and supporters to destabilise the premise of the vote.

While the Romanian Orthodox Church and the rightwing Coalition for the Family campaigned hard for a Yes vote, which would have rephrased the definition of marriage contained in the Romanian constitution, the No campaign urged supporters to boycott the gay marriage referendum altogether, both in protest at the concept of putting human rights to the popular vote and in an attempt to bring turnout below the requisite threshold.

Only 5.72 per cent of Romanians went to the polls on Saturday, though turnout increased slightly on Sunday afternoon as the powerful Orthodox Church appealed to its congregants to vote. The ruling Social Democratic Party had already reduced the participation threshold from 50 to 30 per cent and agreed to hold polls open for two days to increase voting.

The Romanian constitution will retain its current wording, stating that a family “is founded on the freely consented marriage of the spouses”. Had the church and its supporters succeeded, the phrasing would have been changed to specify the spouses as a man and a woman.

While some opposition party members hailed the failure of the gay marriage referendum as a victory for progressivism in Romania, others, such as Liberal leader Ludovic Orban, suggested it was as much an indictment of the Social Democrats as an endorsement of gay relationships.

Meanwhile Condrin Stefanescu, Secretary-General of the Social Democrat Party, condemned the result as “a failure of Romanians and of Romania in general”.

Gay marriage remains illegal in Romania.

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