A referendum to place a restrictive definition of marriage into the Romanian Constitution failed over the weekend, because just over 20 percent of voters went to the polls—well short of the 30 percent threshold needed for a valid referendum. The low turnout was a victory for pro-equality activists who had urged a boycott of the vote and a defeat for Romanian political and religious leaders who promoted it. It’s also a defeat for the U.S. Religious Right groups that have been advocating for the constitutional referendum for years.
The BBC reported that the leader of the only major political party that opposed the referendum said the current government should resign for “wasting” $46 million in public funds on a “fantasy.”
As we have noted, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the European affiliate of the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Liberty Counsel were all involved in promoting the referendum. Last year, Liberty Counsel took marriage-refusing Kentucky court clerk Kim Davis on a speaking tour of Romania to boost the efforts.
Also providing support for the anti-equality forces was the World Congress of Families, the international network led by American anti-LGBTQ activist Brian Brown. The WCF convened in September in neighboring Moldova, which shares language and history with Romania. WCF has partnered with religious and political conservatives in Russian and throughout Eastern Europe to attack the European Union’s secularism and progressive social policies, and to portray Putin’s Russia as a leader of “traditional” societies and Christian civilization.
And Capitol Ministries, the group whose leader Ralph Drollinger runs fundamentalist Bible studies for members of Congress and members of Trump’s cabinet, says it established a “discipleship” Bible study this year for parliamentarians in Romania.
In a story published just before this weekend’s vote, the Los Angeles Times quoted Romanian gay rights advocate Florin Buhuceanu, writing in 2016: “With heavy support offered by their American counterparts, the religious right’s ambition in eastern Europe is to encourage, prepare and initiate a de-secularization process, dismantling piece-by-piece the most important elements of liberal citizenship.”
But the vocal support of Orthodox Church officials and many political leaders was not enough to motivate a sufficient number of voters.
Accept Association, a Romanian group affiliated with ILGA-Europe, said in a statement:
“Together, through the #boycott campaign, we showed that we, as citizens, want a Romania based upon democratic values, a country where respect, equality and common sense guides society. Today we have shown that we can not be fooled by a political agenda that urges us to hate and polarise society, we have shown that most of us believe that human rights are not to be voted at a referendum.”
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Romania in 2001, but same-sex unions are not currently recognized in Romanian law. But in late September, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that gay couples should have the same legal rights as male-female couples. In June, the European Court of Justice ruled that the country could not deny residency to the American husband of a Romanian man; they were legally married in Belgium in 2010.