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Cynical Romanian Referendum Tries to Redefine ‘Family’

Activists Encourage Voters to Stay Away from Polls That ‘Legitimize Hatred’

Members of Romania's gay community attend the GayFest Parade 2011 in Bucharest June 4, 2011. © 2011 Reuters

Romanian polls open this weekend for a referendum that will subject the rights of minorities to the whims of the majority. If approved, the referendum would change the constitution to define marriage as one between “a man and a woman,” replacing the existing gender-neutral reference to the union of “spouses.”

Who gets to enjoy their human rights should not be decided by popular vote, and this referendum is particularly opportunistic and insidious. 

First, the referendum is redundant since the existing civil code does not permit same-sex marriage or civil partnership – this vote is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to scapegoat a vulnerable minority. It is also a wasteful extravagance, costing an estimated €20 million, at a time when Romania is facing severe economic hardship.

Second, the referendum is incompatible with being a member of the EU, which comes with both benefits and obligations. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is explicitly prohibited in Article 21 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The Romanian Constitutional Court recognized the right to family life for same-sex couples married outside the country when it accepted a ruling by the European Court of Justice in a 2018 case brought by Adrian Coman and Clai Hamilton. The European court upheld the right of same-sex couples to freedom of movement within the EU, even in those jurisdictions that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

The Romanian senate approved the referendum after 3 million signatures were submitted by a civil society group, the Coalition for the Family. It requires a thirty percent turnout of eligible voters for the results to become law, and human rights groups in Romania are calling for voters to stay away from this illegitimate and divisive poll that has no other purpose but to symbolically marginalize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. “We encourage all citizens with voting rights to stay home on the day of the referendum and not to legitimize a political maneuver to divert public attention and to promote hatred,” said Florin Buhuceanu, chair of ACCEPT.

In attempting to narrow the definition of “spouse” and promote the nuclear family as the only legitimate family form, Romanian authorities ignore same-sex couples, single-parent families, and extended families — and risk violating international and European law.

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