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(Berlin) – Voters in Slovenia, a European Union member state, began voting on December 15, 2015, on whether to uphold a March law legalizing same-sex marriage, Human Rights Watch said today. The preliminary results are to be announced on December 20. 

“The rights of a minority, particularly to equality, shouldn’t be subject to removal by the whim of the majority,” said Boris Dittrichlesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The right to marry is a fundamental right, as is the right not to be discriminated against, and same-sex couples should not be denied the right to marriage equality.” 

Slovenia's parliamentary hall is pictured during a session in Ljubljana, May 24, 2013. (c) Reuters 2013

In March, the Slovenian parliament passed an amendment on the Marriage and Family Relations Act that extended marriage to same-sex couples. However, a conservative group calling itself “Children Are at Stake,” backed by the Roman Catholic Church, collected more than 80,000 signatures for a referendum on the law, invoking the constitutional right of Slovenians to appeal laws adopted by parliament.

Parliament tried to prevent the referendum, taking the position that the law protects fundamental rights, and that article 90 of the constitution specifically protects laws relating to fundamental rights from referendum challenges. However, Slovenia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the parliament could not block the referendum and allowed it to take place. 

Under Slovenian law, a minimum of 20 percent of the more than 1.7 million registered voters is required to vote against the same-sex marriage law in order for the referendum to be valid.

Within the EU, same-sex marriage is now legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Luxemburg, and Ireland. In May, Ireland became the first country in the world to endorse marriage equality by popular vote, and to enshrine the protection in its constitution. 

Groups like ‘Children Are at Stake’ have been using discredited arguments alleging harmful consequences from same-sex parenting to try to reverse marriage equality. More than 70 peer-reviewed scholarly studies from around the world have concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare as well as other children. For LGBT children, growing up in an environment of non-discrimination and equality serves their best interest, Human Rights Watch said. 

“No societal problems have emerged in any country after marriage equality that can be attributed to same-sex couples having the right to marry.” Dittrich said. “I hope the Slovenian voters will uphold marriage equality and not deny people basic equality.” 

Dittrich initiated the debate on marriage equality as a member of the Dutch parliament in 1994. After heated debates in parliament and in society at large, parliament approved same-sex marriage legislation in 2001, making the Netherlands the first country in the world to legally recognize same-sex marriage. 

Allowing the right to marry to be subject to approval by referendum means that recognition of a fundamental right of a minority is left to the whim of the majority, Human Rights Watch said. 

“Slovenia’s own constitution recognizes that fundamental rights shouldn’t be left to majority decision,” Dittrich said. “It’s a pity that the Constitutional Court didn’t invoke that constitutional protection of fundamental rights to halt the challenge to marriage equality.”

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