AP Explains: Romanians to vote on gay marriage amendment

A nun holding a cross sits between banners that read in Romanian "Vote Yes on the Referendum! Marriage" during a rally in support of the traditional family, organised by the local church, in the small province town of Draganesti Olt, Romania, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Romania will hold a referendum on October 6-7 after three million Romanians signed a petition demanding a constitutional amendment redefining marriage "as the union between a man and a woman", which is currently defined as a union between "spouses." (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Florin Buhuceanu and his partner are boycotting a referendum this weekend that would revise the definition of family in the Constitution of Romania, an amendment intended to prevent same-sex marriages from being legalized that critics fear also could have consequences for households led by single parents and grandparents.

A conservative group initiated the referendum, and the influential Romanian Orthodox Church is backing it. It would revise the constitution to make marriage “a union between a man and a woman” instead of “a union between spouses.” The proposed change would prevent any attempt to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation.

The two-day vote, which starts Saturday morning and ends Sunday evening, requires a 30 percent turnout of registered voters to be valid.

WHAT ARE ROMANIANS VOTING ON?

The constitutional amendment would officially redefine marriage as a union between man and woman. The Romanian Constitution currently defines marriages as a union between spouses, with no reference to gender.

Critics have said the amendment is redundant since Romanian civil law already bans same-sex marriages. They say the new constitutional language is a mean-spirited attempt to make LGBT people feel more like second-class citizens.

WHY IS IT HAPPENING?

The Coalition for Family submitted a petition with 3 million signatures proposing for the constitution to be amended. The group said it was concerned young Romanians were learning about so-called ‘non-traditional’ family arrangements in school.

Coalition for Family spokesman Mihai Gheorghiu said the group’s goal is to promote what it considers to be “the natural family.”

“A mother and a father and the existence of a child are not prejudices,” Gheorghiu said. “They are fundamental elements of our understanding and our society today.”

Parliament approved holding a voter referendum last month. The Romanian Constitutional Court, in a 7-2 vote, gave its approval.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

The leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, said he would vote to support the revised language. Dragnea, who has been convicted of vote-rigging and abuse of power in office, said the referendum was necessary because some Romanians were alarmed about false reports that men could marry animals in other countries.

The pro-passage campaign has played on the generally unpopular idea that as the constitution now reads, same-sex couples could one day be able to adopt children. A Social Democratic mayor put up a sign in Bucharest urging a “yes” vote “out of respect for our grandparents, out of concern for our children.”

The Romanian Orthodox Church has urged priests to get the voters out. The church can’t sanction marriages legally — only the state can do that— but has broad influence.

WHO’S AGAINST IT?

Supporters of LGBT rights organized a boycott of the referendum. Some voters said they planned to skip it, either because of apathy or because they view the balloting as an attempt by the left-wing government to distract citizens.

The Evangelical Church of Augustan Confession, a German-speaking Protestant group, said the vote was unnecessary because marriage was already limited to a man and a woman in civil law.

WHAT WOULD PASSAGE MEAN?

Both opponents and supporters seem to agree that not a lot will change legally or practically in terms of the ability of LGBT people to wed in Romania.

Same-sex couples are not permitted to marry there now since Romanian law already limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

Gay rights groups said the constitutional revision could encourage homophobia by further promoting the view that only opposite-sex marriages are legitimate and same-sex relationships are unworthy of recognition or protection.

Opponents say passage of the amendment also could hurt single-parent families, unmarried couples with children, grandparents raising grandchildren and others who aren’t living under arrangements like the ones enshrined the constitution.

WHAT IS THE STATE OF LGBT RIGHTS in ROMANIA

Buhuceanu, a gay rights activist and Victor Ciobotaru, a gender and political studies student, are a rare example of an openly gay couple in Romania.

The socially conservative nation is among a dwindling number of European nations that do not allow same-sex marriages or provide civil unions as an alternative.

Gay people don’t have inheritance or other rights if their partners die. They are not acknowledged in Romania as next of kin if a partner is hospitalized or in danger, even if the couple was in a legal civil partnership or marriage elsewhere.

Other couples “don’t want to go public so as not to have problems with their family,” Buhuceanu said in an interview Friday. He called Romania “a country with one of the highest rates of homophobia” in Europe.

So as to appear to be keeping in step with other European countries, Romanian politicians have said they would pass a law offering some sort of same-sex partnership recognition if the amendment goes through.

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