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Why Croatia’s Vote to Ban Gay Marriage Doesn’t Mean the Fight is Over

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 presidingPrime Minister Zoran Milanovic and the country’sPresident 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. The 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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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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54 comments

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11:48AM PST on Dec 13, 2013

Good for Croatia.

Marriage is to promote holiness, not necessarily happiness.

You cannot produce a child with only half the 'tools' (no pun intended).

'Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman: it is an abomination' (Leviticus Ch 18 v 22)

12:22PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

To Marko: sorry but this is not true.
Parliamentary representatives and former priest don Grubišić just initiate a referendum to ban religious education from schools and religion from public institutions. No one has banned the referendum, just want to put in the constitution that with referendum we can no longer decide for the rights of minorities, in this case the gays!
And this government, how do you say "communist" gives us more freedom than the one before that was oriented to much on the right and signed an uncommon agreement with the Vatican! What to say, president of the previous government is now in the jail!

9:21AM PST on Dec 11, 2013

Amina, turnout that brought the present Croatian government to power was even lesser and the one that made it possible for us to enter the EU was only a bit bigger. Voting is not mandatory and our de facto communist government is now making sure such referendum never happens again by making constitutional changes thus closing that last expression of democracy in Croatia.

3:03AM PST on Dec 11, 2013

Only 37% citizens voted, how can that be valid..

8:10PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Boo!

6:35PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

"Croatia’s general public has voted to write a same-sex marriage ban into the country’s constitution" - This is not true. You can't ban something illegal. Same-sex marriage has never been legal in Croatia, and so it was not banned by the result of the popular vote on Croatia's referendum. It was rather prevented from the semihidden agenda by the government that was intended to change the actual Family law that which defines marriage in the SAME way as it is now in the Constitution, by a simple parliament majority. European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg decided same-sex marriage was not a human right, and left all member states the freedom of choice in the matter.

6:34PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

"Croatia’s general public has voted to write a same-sex marriage ban into the country’s constitution" - This is not true. You can't ban something illegal. Same-sex marriage has never been legal in Croatia, and so it was not banned by the result of the popular vote on Croatia's referendum. It was rather prevented from the semihidden agenda by the government that was intended to change the actual Family law that which defines marriage in the SAME way as it is now in the Constitution, by a simple parliament majority. European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg decided same-sex marriage was not a human right, and left all member states the freedom of choice in the matter.

6:23PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Croatia banned nothing, the referendum was about the definition of marriage. What this public vote proved though is a deep gap between the people on one hand and the government, media and activists on the other. Public vote is the only democratic instrument left in a country ruled by the ex communists who control the media. An hour ago my comments were deleted from the facebook profile of a party Za grad and I was banned from there, and earlier sae thing happened at the portal Index for comments such as the one I am writing now. No swearing nor offending. And they call this tolerance towards different views. I have never seen such oppression and fear of expressing one's opinion as during the days prior to the referendum and during this post referendum period as well which means that majority of the people dare not express themselves due to the views of the ruling oligarchy.

6:22PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

It's gonna be a great world, that day that we all say "let's be free!"

One day we'll have a social contract, unwritten, but followed by all, that says "If you're an adult and don't harm others, you are free to choose your life or to follow your genetic coding. You are free to be YOU. Don't trample on others' freedoms and choices, and they won't trample on yours."

I'm looking forward to that day. Some day. Sadly, it won't happen on its own; we have to make it happen.

8:54AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Separation of chucrh and state should be the mandate in all countries.

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