by Madalina Olteanu, Bucharest

by Madalina Olteanu, Bucharest

Romania's same-sex marriage prohibition referendum

05 Mar, 2019

by Madalina Olteanu, Bucharest

In 2018, a Romanian association gathered 3 million votes to hold a referendum on making same-sex marriage illegal in Romania. The initiative was approved by the Parliament, being considered a symbol of fight for traditional values.

Same-sex marriage regulations and adoption controversy

However, the hate speech was rooted deeper than it appeared – in Romania, same-sex marriage is already illegal, because The Civil Code regulates marriage as the union between “man and woman”, and not between spouses. What 3 million people wanted, therefore, was a legal change that offered stability, and that would be difficult to repeal: they wanted the Constitution to regulate marriage in the same manner as the Civil Code does, thus specifically mentioning the genders of the parties involved.

This soon led to hate speech regarding LGBT+ members adopting children – the propaganda for the whole referendum included, as a main reason, that if people don’t vote for a constitutional change, gay people would be able to adopt children. Leaving aside the obvious discrimination, it was nonsense from a legal standpoint as well – in Romania there is no criterion involving gender or sexual orientation that people have to fit in order to adopt children, meaning that it has always been legally possible for LGBT+ members to do it.

The church and the downfall of homophobic propaganda

A major role in promoting this referendum was played by the church – all their representatives tried as much as possible to convince people into voting, even during sermons. The level of pressure reached by this insistence determined many elderly to do so, and to promote the hate speech further. It wasn’t something difficult to do, given the fact that they based their arguments on traditional values, which were much appreciated during the communist era.

To their surprise, however, the opposition was strong – from famous Romanian figures to students, many people showed contempt towards such discrimination and came up with their own slogans and initiatives to avoid the harm. Soon, the idea of boycotting the referendum arose. There was a blast of posts and events on every social network through which people tried to convince others not to vote.

Even though it seemed hopeless, the boycott was the only solution left. That is because, in Romania, in order for the final result of a referendum to be valid, a quorum has to be constituted – this means that at least 30% of the total number of voters have to participate. So, after all the efforts, on 6 and 7 October 2018, not enough people voted for the prohibition of same-sex marriage to be constitutionally regulated, the turnout being only 21.1%.

Romania is still fighting to get rid of the marks that communism has left in the general mentality – but it’s getting there. In spite of the 3 million votes gathered for the referendum (far more numerous than the 500,000 required to initiate one), younger generations have proved that Romanians are becoming more open-minded and inclusive. This result was a sound victory for the LGBT+ community, in a country where homophobia is still deeply rooted, but where people are willing to let go of their prejudices more and more every day.