(Berlin) – A low turnout in a Slovakia referendum on February 7, 2015, scuttled a measure that would have set the scene for legalized discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) couples, Human Rights Watch said today. The decision of the majority of voters not to participate in the referendum on this regressive measure offers some comfort to minorities in Slovakia. 

Although the majority of the people who voted approved the proposals, it was less than the 50 percent of registered voters required for the vote to be valid in the country of 5.4 million people. The referendum called for same-sex couples to be barred from marrying or from adopting and raising children, and for limited access to comprehensive sex education at school. 

“Slovakia’s people voted with their feet not to take part in this effort to limit their fellow citizens’ human rights,” said Boris Dittrich, the LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The referendum was shaped by homophobic views, designed purely to limit and discriminate against the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” 

Following the people’s lead, the government should introduce legislation to legally recognize same-sex relationships and affirm the rights of LGBT people to form a family and raise children, Human Rights Watch said.

The referendum was organized by the Slovak government as a result of a petition by the Alliance for Family, a conservative group that gathered about 400,000 signatures more than needed to put the measure to a referendum vote. 

The referendum contained three questions. One asked voters if they agreed that “no other cohabitation of persons other than a union between one man and one woman can be called marriage.” The second asked if they agreed that “same-sex couples or groups shall not be permitted to adopt and subsequently raise children.”

The third, curiously lumping euthanasia with sexual education, asked whether voters agreed that “schools shall not require children to participate in education in the area of sexual behavior or euthanasia if their parents or the children themselves do not agree with it.”

Slovakia’s constitution, in article 93, provides that a referendum may not be used to determine “basic rights and liberties.” However, in October 2014, after President Andrej Kiska referred the matter to the Slovak Constitutional Court, it ruled that the three questions in the referendum did not violate the constitution. It rejected a fourth question on registered partnerships.

Slovakia does not legally recognize relationships between same-sex partners. In 2014, Slovak’s constitution was changed to define marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman. 

Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013, amended its constitution in 2013 to define marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman in the wake of a referendum banning same-sex marriage. The government, however, subsequently introduced a bill for legal recognition of same-sex relationships, which the parliament passed. Croatia is thereby meeting its obligation to afford same sex-couples legal recognition and protection, Human Rights Watch said. 

As a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Slovakia is bound by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. In a November 7, 2013, ruling in Vallianatos and others v. Greece (GC), nos. 29381/09 and 32684/09, the court found that proposed registered partnership legislation in Greece, which did not include same-sex couples, was discriminatory. It ruled that the Greek legislation violated article 8 (family life), taken together with article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Slovak constitution also provides in article 11 that international human rights treaties it has ratified take precedence over the country’s laws.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also recognized the importance of granting same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples in civil unions or registered partnerships.

“The Slovak public has indicated it does not want arbitrary discrimination against LGBT families,” Dittrich said. “The Slovakian government should protect LGBT people and their children by introducing legislation that is in line with their obligations as an EU member state and with legislation in other EU countries.”