Referendum in Croatia About the Definition of Marriage

November 21, 2013

Over 750,000 Croatian citizens have asked parliament to call a referendum on a constitutional provision that would clearly define marriage in the Croatian constitution as “a life union of a woman and a man”.

It is the first time in the 22 years of Croatian independence that a citizens’ initiative has managed to collect the sufficient number of votes in only 2 weeks. The requirement to call for a referendum is 10% of the voting population. The initiative, “In the Name of the Family”, obtained double this amount (i.e. 20%) in only two weeks of signature collection.

This is a massive civic movement—the largest Croatia has seen since its independence.

According to Lino Zonjić, one of the organizers of the initiative, “the voters are very sensitive to the latest attempts of the current government to redefine marriage, family, and thus the entire society by imposing the equalization of homosexual relationships with marriage“.

The “In the Name of the Family” initiative has received support from all major religious communities in Croatia, as well as 5 parliamentary parties, 15 non-parliamentary parties, numerous NGOs, and private families and individuals. However, it calls for even broader support, calling for human rights activists and defenders of democracy to support this initiative as opposition to the referendum gets increasingly aggressive.

Although 6,000 volunteers in more than 2,000 locations found widespread support for the referendum, Croatia’s highest government representatives are actively campaigning against it.

Ivo Josipović, the President of the Republic of Croatia, expressed his disappointment with the referendum initiative, doubting “whether we need such a referendum”. The Minister of Social Politics and Youth, Milanka Opačić, deplored the fact that Croatians “will unfortunately spend almost a monthly amount of social benefits on a completely unnecessary referendum”. In addition, the Prime Minister of Croatia, Zoran Milanović, called the entire initiative to constitutionally define marriage as the union of a woman and a man a “completely pointless” thing to do. He even went further, saying that “this will be the first and last time that such a referendum is announced”.

At the same time, recognizing indirectly that this referendum might have overwhelming success, Croatia’s Public Administration Minister, Arsen Bauk, has said that a bill is being drawn up to grant homosexual partnerships the same legal rights as marriages.

This move wasn’t completely unexpected. After the 2011 elections, the new government had announced that creating same-sex civil unions would be a priority. Since then, the government has tried everything it could do to prevent this referendum from taking place. In June 2013, offering no explanation, it claimed that the 750,000 signatures calling for a public vote on the issue simply failed to meet the requirements, boldly ignoring the constitutional rules for holding a referendum.

On the other hand, the Croatian government seems to ignore that the definition of marriage as a union of a woman and a man is perfectly in line with international law and does not constitute an act of discrimination. It simply treats a unique social institution—marriage, something that is fundamentally different from all other forms of co-habitation—in a unique way.

Since everyone in society who is of marriageable age has access to this institution, there is no inequality of rights. Although some members of society choose not to conclude a marriage for diverse reasons, they are perfectly entitled to enter into a marriage. However, the refusal to enjoy a given right cannot result in the claim that they have been denied this right.

The planned referendum conforms with the legal framework of the European Union. The EU has no competence on defining marriage, but it’s an exclusive competence of the Member State (i.e. Croatia). Thus, the Croatian referendum is not only in line with EU law, but it is entirely up to the Member States to define marriage. This is what the Croatian people are about to do.

The Constitutional referendum will be held in Croatia on Sunday, December 1. It will ask the question: “Do you support the introduction of a provision into the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia that defines marriage as a life union of a woman and a man?”

Under the Croatian Constitution, there is no participation quorum needed for the results of the referendum to be valid—so the decision will be made by a simple majority of those who voted.