Romanians Vote on Locking Same-Sex Marriage Ban Into Constitution

(Bloomberg) -- Romanians are deciding this weekend whether to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution, highlighting the divergence between Europe’s more conservative east and the western push to expand rights for minorities.

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

Romania would become one of a minority of European Union members to constitutionally rule out same-sex marriage, and there’s been no major push to overturn the existing legislation. Opposition parties say the government is using the vote as a distraction from its own problems. The European Parliament accused Romania this week of eroding the rule of law through judicial overhauls that aim to weaken punishments for corrupt officials.

“This referendum is more a tool for the ruling politicians to boost their standing, and turnout won’t be great as citizens aren’t really concerned about this issue, even though the Romanians’ values are traditional,” said Alfred Bulai, a sociologist at the Bucharest Political Science Faculty. “The cultural background in eastern Europe is different from the west.”

Turnout must reach 30 percent or more for the referendum to be valid. If that happens, parliament is obliged to approve the necessary constitutional amendment, though it hasn’t acted on some earlier plebiscites, including one trimming the number of seats in the assembly by a third. Turnout was 5.7 percent after the close of voting on Saturday.

Romania’s ruling coalition is promoting so-called traditional values as it seeks to revive popularity following clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Bucharest in the summer. The opposition Save Romania Union said the referendum is meant to deflect attention from “the real problems: the dismantling of the judiciary and the destabilization of the rule of law.”

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