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Romania: Ban on same-sex marriage fails due to low voter turnout

A Romanian nun takes part in a rally in support of a Yes vote on anti-gay marriage referendum, in Draganesti, Romania, October 4, 2018 – Image: Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A referendum to change Romania’s constitution to prevent same-sex couples from securing the right to marry failed to draw enough voters to validate the result on Sunday, after a campaign that led to a rise in hate-speech against the gay community.

The vote has also been seen as a popularity test of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) that supported the change and whose attempts to weaken anti-corruption legislation have drawn criticism from the European Union’s executive.

Data from the national election bureau showed voter turnout stood at 20.4 percent, when the polls closed at 1800 GMT, below the 30 percent required for it to be valid.

The two-day referendum […] aimed to change the constitution to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, from the current gender-neutral “spouses.”

Religiously conservative Romania, which decriminalised homosexuality in 2001 decades after neighbouring countries, bars marriage and civil partnerships for same sex-couples.

Civil society group, Coalition for the Family, secured 3 million signatures to trigger the vote, aimed at preventing gay couples winning the right to marry in the future.

The Coalition received backing from the Orthodox Church and other religions, as well as all but one parliamentary parties.

“Romanians rejected being divided and hating each other, it is a victory for Romanian democracy, and moreover, Romanians rejected the involvement of the Orthodox Church in the state’s secular affairs,” said Vlad Viski of LGBT rights group MozaiQ.

“We believe politicians must now legalise civil partnerships for same-sex couples,” he said at a party to celebrate the outcome.

Dozens of human rights groups had said a successful referendum would embolden further attempts to chip away at the rights of minority groups, and push Romania onto a populist, authoritarian track.

They had encouraged people to boycott the ballot, with several companies and popular musicians and artists following. A library chain even offered a book discount over the weekend, for those who wanted to stay in and read rather than vote.

In villages across the country, people were quoted saying they had better things to do, such as canning food and making wine.

“The PSD staked everything on the referendum, by associating with it and trying to capitalise on it,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, a political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University.

[…]

Days before the vote, the government relaxed anti-fraud monitoring, and limited options for challenging the result.

Romania ranks 25th out of 28 EU states based on legislation, hate-speech, and discrimination against LGBT people, an annual study by ILGA Europe showed.

-Luiza Ilie

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