Croatians voted to ban marriage equality yesterday in a setback for LGBT rights, but government ministers in this heavily Catholic nation will immediately seek to legalize civil unions.
The nation’s constitution will now be amended after 65% of voters in the referendum chose to limit marriage rights to heterosexual couples, reports The Telegraph. A movement called “In the Name of the Family” organized the constitutional amendment with heavy backing from the Catholic hierarchy. Nearly 90% of Croatians are Catholic. On Sunday, when the vote took place, Catholic prelates, from their pulpits urged voters to support the amendment, andChurch officials were instrumental in helping gain 750,000 signatures against marriage equality in a nation of only 4.4 million people.
A central question for many Croatians now is what impact this new amendment will have in real terms. ANSA Mediterranean reports:
“[T]he democratic legitimacy of the referendum is on the line as turnout was extremely low, something which does not compromise its validity given that a quorum was not necessary.
“But the fact that only 35% of the country’s 3.8 million would-be voters cast their ballots in such a significant referendum with constitutional powers has raised a few doubts.
“Moreover the Croatian Constitutional court has explained that the ‘definition of marriage as a union between a man and woman’ has no impact on the definition of family and that the referendum’s outcome ‘cannot limit in any way the future development of legislative regulations concerning civil unions between same-sex partners’.”
Government officials who had opposed the amendment banning equal marriage announced plans to legalize such civil unions for same-gender couples. President Ivo Josipovic said that “A nation is judged by its attitude towards minorities” and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said “this is the last referendum that gives a chance to the majority to strip a minority of its rights.”
Marriage equality advocates also spoke out to defend their nation’s record on LGBT rights, claiming this vote was not indicative of the country’s general progress. Some speculated in The New York Times that factors outside of marriage played into this amendment’s passage:
“Analysts said conservative groups were also able to tap into growing popular disenchantment with the European Union, which Croatia joined in July. Many Croats blame the union, fairly or unfairly, for the nation’s economic woes…
“Despite the referendum, gay rights groups said attitudes toward homosexuality were gradually improving in Croatia. In 2002, at the first gay pride parade held in Zagreb, the capital, several dozen demonstrators were beaten by extremists. Last year, by contrast, activists said the parade attracted about 10,000 people without incident.”
Having succeeded in banning marriage rights for same-gender couples, it remains unknown how the Catholic hierarchy will now respond to LGBT people in Croatia. Media outlets boycotted the anti-equality campaign headquarters, which had denied credentials to liberal outlets, so there has been no communication so far from them.
With nearly 90% of the population being Catholic, how the Church hierarchy responds in these new circumstances will have a tremendous impact. It’s worth asking whether bishops and conservative leaders will seek to heal wounds created by the divisive amendment and pursue pastoral tones. Or will they seek to suppress further rights for LGBT people and families, such as opposing civil union legislation.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry