Slovenia’s overwhelming rejection of marriage equality this weekend is obviously a huge step backwards for LGBT people. But it is damaging for the rights and well-being of children too.

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

In March, Slovenia’s Parliament amended the Marriage and Family Relations Act to open marriage to same-sex couples. But after the amendment passed, opponents collected over 80,000 signatures to force a referendum on the law. Yesterday the government announced that voters had rejected the marriage equality law by a 63% to 37% margin. This is a vote that should never have been held – no one’s fundamental human rights should be subject to repeal by popular vote.

Slovenia will now revert to its previous system, which permits same-sex couples to have civil partnerships but bars them from marriage or adoption – a system which is plainly discriminatory.

In the run-up to the referendum, opponents of same-sex marriage cited concerns about children’s rights as the grounds for their opposition. They organized a coalition called “Children Are at Stake,” citing discredited arguments about the dangers of same-sex parenting to argue that children have the right to both a mother and a father. On Sunday, the coalition’s leader declared the referendum result “a victory for our children.”

But opponents of marriage equality ignore growing evidence that children raised by same-sex couples fare just as well as other kids. Worse still, they use the guise of children’s rights to justify discrimination against LGBT people.

Let’s examine the facts. Depriving same-sex couples of the right to marry and adopt does not advance children’s rights. On the contrary, it puts the rights and well-being of children at risk. It stops children in need of a home from being placed with capable, loving parents. It suggests to all children that some people are not worthy of equal treatment. And it sends a message to kids who are themselves LGBT that they are second-class citizens, who are deemed less capable of loving and caring for others.

Campaigns like the one in Slovenia trade on a long history of stereotypes and prejudice, unfairly pitting children’s rights against LGBT rights. It should be perfectly clear by now that children’s rights are best served when the fundamental rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are respected and protected.