Agence France-Presse – A strong majority in staunchly Catholic Croatia voted Sunday to outlaw same-sex marriage in a referendum sought by a Church-backed group but strongly opposed by rights groups, partial results showed.
A total of 64.84 percent of voters said “yes” to the question of whether they wanted to amend the constitution to include a definition of marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”, according to partial results from around one-third of polling stations released by the electoral commission.
Croatia’s current constitution does not define marriage.
A total of 34.56 percent of voters said “no”, the results showed.
Passions ran high in Croatia ahead of the vote, with the Church-backed “yes” camp citing the defence of traditional family values, and their opponents accusing them of discrimination against gays.
However, three hours before voting ended, the turnout was a rather low 26.75 percent, the electoral commission said.
Under Croatian law, a referendum does not require a majority voter turnout to be valid.
The centre-left government, rights activists and prominent public figures have all spoken out against the measure.
But the recent unveiling of a government bill enabling gay couples to register as “life partners” sparked fears among conservatives in Croatia — which joined the EU in July — that same-sex marriage would be next.
“I’m a father of three children and that explains everything,” Krunoslav Knezevic told AFP in reference to his “yes” vote.
“Marriage is a union of a woman and a man designed so that children are born in it. I’m not certain that a same-sex couple can have children in a natural way,” he added ironically.
In May, a Church-backed group called “In the Name of the Family” collected almost 700,000 signatures seeking a nationwide vote on the definition of marriage.
“Marriage is the basis of family and family is the basis of any society, including Croatian,” the leader of the initiative, Zeljka Markic, told AFP.
“This is not about discrimination, it’s simply that Croatian citizens have the right to say whether for them marriage is a union of a woman and a man.”
Premier calls vote ‘sad and senseless’
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic labelled the vote “sad and senseless” and voiced hope it was the last vote on such an issue.
The vote’s opponents denounced the referendum as discriminatory and warned it could pave the way for other conservative initiatives targeting minorities or on issues such as abortion.
“Today homosexuals are on the agenda, tomorrow it will be those who have bicycles, then people with dogs, Jews, we know how it goes,” warned Ilija Desnica, a man in his 60s who voted “no”.
“This is the entry of fascism through the back door.”
But the powerful Church has urged its followers to vote “yes”, in a country where almost 90 percent of the population are Roman Catholics.
“Marriage is the only union enabling procreation,” said Croatia’s Cardinal Josip Bozanic in a letter read out in churches across the country.
“This is the key difference between a marriage… and other unions.”
The leader of the main opposition HDZ party, Tomislav Karamarko, echoed the view and stressed that “unfortunately, we are obliged to put into the constitution something which is natural.”
When Croatia’s first Gay Pride parade was held in Zagreb in 2002, dozens of participants were beaten up by extremists.
But attitudes towards gay rights have slowly become more liberal.
Gay rights marches are now staged regularly, though still under heavy security. The issue is also discussed more openly in the media and homosexuals are less fearful of “coming out”.
In 2003 Croatia adopted a law recognising same-sex couples who have lived together for at least three years — although apart from official acknowledgement, the measure grants them few rights.
Sunday’s vote was the first citizen-initiated referendum since Croatia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Source – The Global Post