Why Croatia’s Vote to Ban Gay Marriage Doesn’t Mean the Fight is Over
Croatia’s general public has voted to write a same-sex marriage ban into the country’s constitution. Now what’s next for equal partnership rights in the country?
Over the weekend it emerged that around 65% of Croatia’s 4.4 million population voted “yes” to writing the country’s existing statutory ban on same-sex marriage into the country’s constitution. The exact wording of the referendum was “Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?”
The referendum was strongly opposed by the presidingáPrime Minister Zoran Milanovic and the country’sáPresident Ivo Josipovic. To give an idea of the President’s unguarded opposition, he is on record as saying, “We don’t need this kind of a referendum. Defining marriage between a man and a woman doesn’t belong to the constitution. A nation is judged by its attitude toward minorities.”
Yet with the backing of Croatia’s Roman Catholic church, who helped to collect more than 750,000 signatures to put the question to the public ballot, the referendum proved too big a creature to defeat in a religious conservative country.
The referendum result was a particular disappointment for gay rights advocates because Croatia has made strong steps toward equality in recent years, and is even now looking to reform laws like it how it treats gender transition.
Legal experts told the New York Times that the language of the ban affirmed by the constitutional amendment would make it very difficult to legalize same-sex marriage in the future without putting the marriage equality issue to another public vote.
Interestingly, the move that kicked off this fight last year wasn’t about gay marriage at all. Partly, religious conservative groups were reacting to the left-leaning government extending sex education programs in schools.
When the government later mulled extending partnership rights to same-sex couples, religious conservatives saw their chance to strike back and began a campaign saying that the constitutional amendment was necessary to prevent court intervention like the kind that has legalized marriage equality in other EU countries. Croatia, which joined the EU in July, has suffered a tough economic climate in recent years and a general anti-EU feeling among the public may have fed into helping to pass the initiative. áThe vote may also have been bolstered by dissatisfaction with the left-leaning Croatian government.
While anti-gay marriage forces might be crowing about this “victory,” Croatia’s pro-equality government has said it certainly isn’t done with this fight yet. While stifling, the constitutional amendment is quite narrow compared to some that we have seen in the United States and does allow some room to expand the country’s registered partnerships for same-sex couples. This could manifest as better access to inheritance rights and shared government recognition.
Currently, same sex couples also cannot adopt and the right wing opposition party HDZ has heavily opposed changing this fact. Whether a civil union-like bill would be enough to confer adoption rights remains to be seen as the country’s adoption and marriage laws appear quite connected.
Regardless, another positive is that Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic appears to be keen to make sure that minority rights are never put to the ballot again, saying that while the referendum result must be respected, “this is the last referendum that gives a chance to the majority to strip a minority of its rights.”
There are of course arguments for advocating for full equality right now, with no compromises. Croatia’s presiding government appears to be looking at this situation pragmatically, though, meaning that last week’s vote — while definitely a blow — will not mean a complete stop on gay rights progress.
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