Romanian Vote to Cement Gay-Marriage Ban Fails on Turnout

(Bloomberg) -- A referendum in Romania to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution -- something only a handful of European Union nations have done -- failed as turnout didn’t meet the necessary minimum level.

The two-day plebiscite at the weekend was triggered by a civil-society group called the Coalition for the Family, which gathered signatures from almost a sixth of the predominantly Orthodox Christian country’s 20 million population. While gay marriage isn’t currently recognized, the initiative sought to prevent future attempts to allow it by changing the constitution’s wording to “between a man and a woman” from the current “spouses.”

As of early Monday, turnout had reached just over two thirds of the 30 percent threshold required to compel parliament to take up the issue. While rights groups had urged a boycott, there had been no major push to allow gay marriage and the issue wasn’t vital for voters. Even so, more than 90 percent of those who went to the polls backed the definition change.

Opposition groups had criticized the initiative as a government attempt to deflect attention from an escalating spat with the European Union over judicial independence. The referendum’s failure may spell trouble for ruling-party boss Liviu Dragnea, Romania’s de facto leader.

“The low turnout is a signal from voters that they’re balking at being manipulated by the political parties,” Cristian Pirvulescu, dean of Bucharest’s Political Science University, said by phone. “This failed vote will weigh on all the politicians who supported it, but mostly on Dragnea, who missed the opportunity of a political revival.”

The ruling coalition has endured two years of infighting amid controversial attempts revamp the courts, efforts the EU and the U.S. say will weaken an unprecedented anti-corruption drive. Dragnea himself has a criminal conviction that prevents him from taking the prime minister’s position. He’ll face an appeal hearing next month at the Supreme Court against a jail sentence, after securing a delay on Monday to hire lawyers.

“We have more stringent issues to fix than same-sex marriages -- we have the worst roads, but the politicians only talk nonsense,” said Constantin Rupea, a 64-year-old retired truck driver. “Dragnea doesn’t know what else to come up with to stay in power, so I didn’t vote and nobody in my family did either.”

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