Romania votes in controversial marriage referendum

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International desk: Romania goes to the polls this weekend in a referendum on a narrow definition of marriage that the ruling Social Democrats hope will re-energise flagging grassroots support among the country’s overwhelmingly Orthodox population.

Nearly 19 million Romanians are entitled to vote in the plebiscite which aims to alter the wording of the constitution to define marriage explicitly as between a man and woman, rather than simply “spouses” as it has stated since 1991, reports BBC.

“My Orthodox education and my traditional upbringing make me say ‘yes’,” the Social Democratic Party (PSD)’s strongman, Liviu Dragnea, said recently.

It was Dragnea, 55, who led the PSD to a sweeping victory in 2016 elections.

But he was unable to run for the post of prime minister due to legal troubles, including a two-year suspended prison sentence for vote-rigging in a referendum in 2016.

And he is scheduled to appear in court on Monday to appeal another sentence — of three-and-a-half years — over a fake jobs scandal.

– Rising homophobia –
From a legal point of view, nothing will change if the “yes” side wins the referendum, which is being held over two days to ensure maximum turnout.

Same-sex couples are currently not allowed by law to marry or enter into civil partnerships in Romania, anyway.

Nevertheless, critics say a change in the wording of the constitution will make it difficult or nigh-on impossible for gays and lesbians to marry in future.

The country’s LGBT community, which already complains that gay people are subject to widespread discrimination on an everyday basis, believes the referendum — which has the explicit backing of the Orthodox church — will fuel homophobia still further.

Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007 and is the bloc’s second-poorest member after Bulgaria, only decriminalised homosexuality in 2001.

And a victory of the “yes” vote is widely expected to be a done deal, with a new poll on Friday showing as many as 90 percent of people in favour.

For the vote to be valid, a minimum turnout of 30 percent is required.

A defeat would deal a severe blow to the Social Democrats who have been campaigning, albeit unofficially, alongside Orthodox priests for the “yes” side.

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