|Referendum on a constitutional amendment to ban Same-Sex Marriage in Croatia|
|petak, 10 siječanj 2014 15:05|
On December 1, 2013, a national referendum was held in Croatia, marking the peak of an intense public discussion about a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union of “a man and a woman”. The outcome of the referendum established new social and political relations in Croatia with respect to LGBT rights, secularism, and the role of the Catholic Church in Croatian society.
The result of the referendum was not surprising – 66% voted in favor of marriage constitutionally defined as a union between a man and a woman, while 34% voted against it. However, the 38% voter turn-out was the lowest voter participation rate in any national elections and/or referendum in Croatia so far. Even though the clerical coalition “U ime obitelji” (“In the Name of Family”) clamed a landslide victory, in reality- it was a symbolic victory that garnered less support than the actual number of self-declared Catholics on a 2011 people’s census. Only about 25% of the total Croatian adult population voted “yes” on this referendum, comparing to around 86% of the population who are declared as Catholic.
The result of the referendum did not come as a surprise, considering the political culture in Croatia, as well as the current re-grouping of right-wing forces. The re-grouping on the mainstream center-right has moved off from the pro-European, moderate conservative perspective. Currently, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) is led by the former head of the national security agency and has moved further to the right, forging an alliance with the Catholic Church, Church-affiliated organizations, war veterans' groups, and various social-conservative affiliations. Former leaders of the HDZ are now not members of the party, or are largely marginalized.
The infrastructure of the clerical coalition “In the Name of the Family” during the referendum campaign was impressive and indeed quite dangerous from the perspective of LGBT groups. At the same time, half way through its mandate, the ruling center-left coalition government has not been able to produce even the smallest signs of economic recovery and thus has become increasingly unpopular. While the conciliatory messages of President Ivo Josipović for the most part have a symbolic meaning, the circle of defenders of LGBT rights has mainly been limited to NGO's, most Croatian daily newspapers, mainstream online media, public persons, and university professors.
Zagreb Pride co-founded a coalition of 88 organizations and groups, which constituted as the “Vote No”(#GlasajPROTIV) campaign. The coalition managed to fundraise around €80 000 both in money and in kind. #GlasajPROTIV campaigned for about 15 days, during which several visibility actions have been organized: a billboard campaign, radio jingles, radio shows, TV ads and a music video. The campaign culminated with a concert at the main square; where around 8 000 people participated. The “Vote No” campaign also participated at the protest rallies organized by various civil society organizations in the streets of Zagreb, Rijeka and at public events in Zadar, Osijek and Split. Besides the 88 organization coalition “Vote No”, individual organizations also campaigned to some lesser extent: the Social Democratic Party made a video ad “Everyone has a right to happiness” calling its members to vote against the constitutional amendment; the Croatian People’s Party-Liberal Democrats made both video and public events as a part of their “Everyone of us is a minority” campaign; three civil society organizations from Rijeka led by the Lesbian organization LORI organized a “Come out against discrimination” march where thousands of people marched.
Before the campaign started, Zagreb Pride addressed the Constitutional Court with the arguments of the un-constitutionality of the referendum question and in the meantime submitted one more complaint of procedural matters. The Constitutional Court responded just two days before the first day of the referendum campaign that civil society organizations have no standing to challenge the referendum question, unlike the Croatian Parliament, which has refused to do so.At first polls indicated that only 21% of voters were considering voting against the proposed constitutional amendment. However, this number grew to 28% in a poll made just week before the referendum. In the end, the official referendum results show that 35% of the voters who came out for the referendum were against the constitutional definition of marriage as “a union between a man and a woman.” It is also important to add that the “Vote no” campaign scored important victories in the County of Istria, County of Primorje-Gorski Kotar (with the 3rd largest Croatian city of Rijeka) and in the northern towns of Varaždin and Čakovec.
Even though final results for the City of Zagreb indicate that 56% voted in favor of the constitutional amendment, and 44 against, it is important to stress that the central neighborhoods of Zagreb - Downtown, Upper City, Trnje, Trešnjevka North, Trešnjevka South, Medveščak and New Zagreb East voted against, while the outskirts of Zagreb voted in favor of constitutional amendment, in some neighborhoods supporting votes passing 70%.
At the same time, the public discussion of the Government’s proposal for civil partnerships (Law on Life-Partnership) took place. Zagreb Pride has been a member of the Government’s working group since October 2012, and the Law-proposal was put on month long public discussion during the referendum campaign, ending December 6, just 5 days after the referendum day. The government seemed more determined than before to secure parliamentary support for the Law-proposal on Life-Partnership. Once passed, this law would provide LGBT persons with practically all marriage rights other than joint-adoption (it does include so called “second parent adoption”). The first of two parliamentary readings will start on January 15. After the first parliamentary reading, the Croatian Government will again decide on parliamentary amendments and proposals and adopt the Final text of the Law. The second reading in the Croatian Parliament is expected at the end of March 2014 and the Law is expected to be enforced between March and April 2014.
In January 2014 Zagreb Pride appealed to the Constitutional Court for the third and last time. This time we have made a citizen’s request for the protection of the legality and constitutionality of the referendum procedure, arguing that the referendum results and referendum question violate the constitution’s fundamental principles of equality and sex equality. The citizen’s request for the protection of constitutionality is submitted with 100 signatures, as required by the Law on the Constitutional Court. By doing so, we have now exhausted all legal options to overturn the outcome of the referendum.
Lastly, political elites, both the ruling majority and the opposition seemed to have realized the dangers of the current referendum initiatives. In November 2013 another far-right-wing initiative managed to collect more than 440 000 signatures, this time for the national referendum on the cultural and linguistic right of non-Croatian ethnic groups who have special status of protection in Croatia defined by the Constitutional Laws on National Minorities. This referendum campaign was, however, targeted exclusively against the Serbian community in Croatia, and was labeled as “anti-Cyrillic referendum”.
The ruling majority is now proposing constitutional changes that would explicitly prohibit referendums on fundamental and minority rights, and new and improved referendum legislation is expected to be passed. These constitutional amendments have been postponed for 2014, since in December 2013 the parliamentary majority did not secure the 2/3 majority needed for constitutional changes.