The recent referendum in Romania was held in order to change the wording in the constitution to identify marriage as being between a man and woman by replacing present gender-neutral definition as being ‘a union of spouses.’ This measure had been taken to cease the wave of legalising same-sex marriage amongst the EU nations.
The outcome, straightaway predetermined by the societal attitudes, does not, however, bring up any crucial changes to the country’s legal system since such marriages are not already allowed. The turnout of 20.4% has shown a clear opposition to the government’s actions but the same cannot be said about the policy itself. A thirty per cent threshold was required to validate the referendum.
The very low turnout was not an ideological demonstration but a showcase of strong government disapproval. Since the civil code clearly specifies that the marriage is between a man and woman, it can be argued that same sex marriage has never been possible and the referendum itself serves as a distraction from corruption scandals in the country. Due to the very conservative character of the country and strong influence of the Orthodox Church such opportunity was not feasible in the first place, regardless.
What was truly at stake here, however, was the government’s estimation of its margin for political manoeuvre – how much ideological support and legitimacy it would receive in the event of other demonstrations for the dismissal of Prime Minister Dancila.
The nationwide protests originated back in 2015 after a deadly fire in the Colectiv nightclub which killed 64 people. The inquiry found out that the club owners were bribing government officials and the club, in fact, had not been given a permit from the fire department. It led to the suspension of the government and resignation of Prime Minister Ponta.
The Romanian government has been largely corrupted throughout the years. It has recently passed a law which makes parliamentarians immune to prosecutions and, therefore, has given the politicians a free hand to accept bribes from a wide range of interest groups without actual legal responsibility. The anti-corruption agencies in the country discovered a number of cases of maladministration. The issue has also been raised by the European Parliament.
Even though the referendum did not reach the required threshold, there is still a long way for the LGBT community to gain voice in Romania and Eastern Europe as a whole. Romania decriminalised homosexuality in 2001 and is in one of the last places for the equality and legal recognition of LGBT people out of all EU nations. Irrespective of the result, the referendum was not a step backwards because a step forward has never been taken.
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