Same-sex marriage has been banned in Croatia after today’s passing of a referendum to amend the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. After a count of four-fifths of the votes, the referendum has resulted in two-thirds of voters indicating that they are in favor of the constitutional amendment.
Referendums in Croatia do not require a majority of the population to vote in order to be passed. Sunday’s vote, without the count from larger cities such as Zagreb and Split, showed the turnout to vote in the referendum was only 26.75 percent.
The referendum was permitted after a petition drawn up by the Catholic group “In the Name of the Familly” that backed a ban against same-sex marriage gathered more than 700,000 signatures, which was more than enough to pass the level needed for a referendum. The group began its petition drive after the center-left government of Croatia drafted a law that would allow gay couples to register as “life partners.” The population of Croatia is 4.4 million with 90 percent of the people identifying themselves as Roman Catholics. The Catholic Church had urged its followers strongly to vote “Yes” on the measure to ban same-sex marriage.
Of the 151 members of Croatia’s parliament, 104 backed the referendum to amend the constitution.
Protests in Zagreb consisting of hundreds of gay right supporters took place on Saturday. Under a large police presence, the protestors marched through the city, displaying a large rainbow flag outside of parliament. Before today’s passage of the referendum, gay and civil rights tensions in Croatia were thought to be lessening. In 2002, during the first gay pride parade to take place in Zagreb, dozens of activists were beaten by anti-gay extremists.
Croatia’s government, well-known public figures and human rights advocacy groups came forward to urge the population to vote against the ban of same-sex marriage. Croatia’s prime minister, Zoran Milanovic, spoke out against the referendum, stating that it threatened the rights of happiness and choice for the gay population. The opposition party, HDZ, supported the referendum. The results of the referendum indicate that during a worsening economic crisis and high rates of unemployment, right-wing and conservative factions are gaining support.
The president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, reported that although he voted against the constitutional amendment, the result of the vote would be honored. He further added that the government is in the process of drafting a law that would give same-sex couples some measure of rights. A 2003 law recognizes same-sex couples if they have cohabitated for at least three years, but does not bestow to the couples any real rights.
Croatia joined the European Union in July as the 28th member. While joining the EU is often seen as affording minorities more protection of their basic human rights, the ban of same-sex marriage in Croatia signals that the EU umbrella does not protect all citizens of its union. While there has been no formal statement from the EU regarding the referendum to ban same-sex marriage, there have been other disagreements with Croatia regarding other laws, most notably its extradition law that kept Croatian citizens from being turned over to other member states.
By Jennifer Pfalz