A failed marriage referendum

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 19th of October, 2018. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: a failed marriage referendum.

Thirteen of the European Union’s 28 member states currently permit same-sex marriage. Nine others allow civil unions. But six EU members—all conservative Eastern European countries—allow neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions.

REICHARD: One of those six is Romania. But even though same-sex marriage is already outlawed there, supporters of traditional marriage wanted to change the constitution to specify that marriage is between a man and a woman. So earlier this month, voters went to the polls. And surprisingly, the referendum failed. Here now to talk about why is WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg.

Sarah, first of all, tell us how the referendum came about in the first place and why Romanians wanted it?

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: In 2016, 3 million Romanians or 15 percent of the country’s population signed a petition. It supported a Biblical definition of marriage and it asked the government for a constitutional referendum to do exactly what you just mentioned: Put gender specific language into the constitution, instead of the current language which just defines marriage as being between gender-neutral “spouses.”

Romanians wanted this referendum because unlike Western European nations, it’s still a very religious nation. Many Romanians fear economically powerful Western Europe could someday force Romania to legalize same-sex marriage or civil unions. Supporters, including the Romanian Orthodox Church—and many elected government officials—thought adding this gender specific language could further protect traditional marriage.

REICHARD: So with all of this support from the people, from the Church, from the government, how did the vote fail?

SCHWEINSBERG: The simplest answer is that the referendum didn’t get the voter turnout it needed to be valid. Romanian law says 30 percent of the population has to vote for a referendum to be implemented and only about 20 percent of voters turned out. But of those 90 percent voted in favor of traditional marriage. That’s four million people, which is a sizable voting bloc in a country of just 20 million.   

REICHARD: Why didn’t more voters come out to vote if this is such an important issue to Romanians?

SCHWEINSBERG: Kiley Crossland, our reporter over at WORLD Digital, looked into this question, and she found the lack of participation boiled down to suspicion about the intent of the referendum. The question on the referendum was ambiguous. It said, “Do you agree with the law on the revision of the Constitution, as adopted by the Parliament?” That wording led to suspicion that the referendum was actually not about marriage, but was actually a political power grab and a way to give unrestrained power to politicians to change the constitution.

REICHARD: So what happens now?

SCHWEINSBERG: Well, while the four million Romanians that voted in favor of the referendum are disappointed, they’ll continue to push their government to defend traditional marriage. The Orthodox church called the vote a “partial success which calls us to hope and work more.” And I think that’s what many Romanians will continue to do.

REICHARD: Sarah Schweinsberg is a regular reporter for WORLD Radio. Sarah, thank you.

SCHWEINSBERG: You are welcome, Mary!

(Photo/Andreea Alexandru, Associated Press)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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