Anti-gay marriage referendum in Romania invalidated by low turnout

A referendum in Romania that sought to impose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage has failed to reach the necessary number of votes needed, defeating conservative and religious forces in the country.

Turnout after the ballots closed on Sunday (October 7) was 20.41 percent, much lower than the 30 percent needed to change language defining marriage in the constitution from the gender-neutral “spouses” to union between a man and a woman.

“Massive fail for the anti-LGBT referendum in Romania tonight as the turnout stops at about 20%. It was a huge slap for politicians, but also for the Orthodox Church, which proved it cannot mobilise people as was feared before. A massive unexpected win for progressive Romania,” tweeted Razvan-Victor Sassu, President & Founder at the Young Initiative Association Romania, commenting on the referendum result.

A member of the LGBT community goes emotional in a club as community members wait for the results of a referendum in Bucharest, Romania on October 7, 2018. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty)

“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 of LGBT+ rights group MozaiQ, as quoted by Reuters.

The referendum, estimated to cost around $40 million, was approved last month by a 107-13 majority of the country’s senators after a petition calling for the vote was signed by three million people. However, as Politico editor Ryan Heath noted on Twitter, only around 3.75 million people ended up heading to the polls over the two days in which the vote was held.

Romania only decriminalised homosexuality in 2001 and is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not offer any sort of legal rights to same-sex couples. Rights organisations condemned the vote as “pandering to homophobia,” but now some LGBT+ Romanians believe the referendum result could now spur the fight for recognition.

“This result is a gain for the LGBT+ community. This will give us the courage to ask for civil partnership,” Anabella, who was celebrating news of the referendum’s failure, told Bloomberg. 

A man leaves a vote cabin at a polling station in Bucharest October 7, 2018. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty)

But proponents of the referendum did not see the result as a defeat. “Next time, we’ll succeed,” Coalition for Family spokesman Mihai Gheorghiu said in a statement quoted in the Associated Press.

He added: “Let’s be happy for this day. The Christian vote exists.”

Despite the anti-LGBT crusaders’ intentions, a recent ruling by Romania’s Constitutional Court at the end of September is making the goal of recognising civil unions more feasible than ever.

The court stated that queer couples deserved a private and family life just as straight people do, adding that they should enjoy “legal and juridical recognition of their rights and obligations.”