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  • A nun exits a voting booth in Ciorogarla, Romania Oct. 7, 2018.

    A nun exits a voting booth in Ciorogarla, Romania Oct. 7, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 October 2018

The vote was boycotted by artists and musicians. A library chain even offered book discounts for those who wanted to stay and read instead of voting.

A referendum in Romania to establish a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Romania failed as the voter turnout was not enough. The two-day vote aimed to change the constitution to define marriage strictly as between a man and a woman.

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The voting, until Sunday, saw only one-fifth of voters bothering to turn out. Only 20.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, which did not cross the threshold of the 30 percent needed for a valid referendum.  

The referendum was initiated by a civil society group called the Coalition for the Family, which raised 3 million signatures to trigger the vote to ensure gay couples never win the right to marry in the future. The coalition was backed by the Orthodox Church and other religions, and all parliamentary parties but one.

Ahead of the referendum, dozens of European Parliament members sent an open letter to Romania’s Prime Minister Viorica Dancila telling her the referendum was a mistake that would promote hate speech against the LGBT community. Human rights groups also protested the referendum.

The voting was boycotted by several artists and musicians. A library chain even offered a book discount over the weekend for those who wanted to stay and read instead of voting.

The constitution will retain the current law which is a neutral statement that defines family as something “founded on the freely consented marriage of the spouses," but the country does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil partnerships.

Dan Barna, of the opposition Save Romania Unions, the major party to oppose the referendum, asked the government to resign for “wasting US$46 million of public money on a fantasy.” The ruling Social Democrats supported the referendum. Opponents of the vote had suggested it was designed to distract the public from ongoing corruption scandals and rally conservative support behind the ruling party.

The president of LGBT rights organization Mozaiq Vlad Viski called for the legalization of civil partnerships in the wake of the failed vote.

“Romanians rejected being divided and hating each other. It is a victory for Romanian democracy and moreover, Romanians rejected the involvement of the Orthodox Church in the state’s secular affairs,” said Vlad Viski

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, decades after neighboring countries. It ranks 25th out of 28 gay-friendly EU states based on legislation, hate speech, and discrimination against LGBT people, an annual study by ILGA-Europe, an umbrella organization advocating equality, showed.

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