Croatian Government to Pursue Law Allowing Civil Unions for Gay Couples

05/12/2013
Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from The new York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/03/world/europe/croatian-government-to-pursue-law-allowing-civil-unions-for-gay-couples.html?_r=0

The Croatian government pledged on Monday to press ahead with plans for a law allowing civil partnerships for gay people after a majority of Croats voted in a referendum to effectively ban same-sex marriage in the predominantly Catholic country.

Legal experts said the result of Sunday’s vote, which deeply polarized the country of 4.5 million, meant that Croatia’s Constitution would be amended to affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman. While family law already defines marriage as a heterosexual union, the experts said the referendum’s result would reinforce this definition, making the legalizing of gay marriage in the future extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The outcome was a major victory for the Roman Catholic Church, and a blow to gay rights advocates. “This referendum was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of introducing gay marriage in Croatia,” said Franko Dota, a political analyst and gay rights activist. “This was a referendum to humiliate the gay population, and to strike against the progress of the past decades.”

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic’s center-left government said on Monday that it would move ahead with a proposed bill to afford same-sex couples many of the legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples, including hospital visitation and inheritance rights, though the bill does not include the right to adopt children.

Mr. Milanovic said he regretted that the referendum had even been held. “I think it did not make us any better, smarter or prettier,” he said.

The state electoral commission said that 66 percent of those who voted answered yes to the question, “Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?” Turnout was relatively low, with about 38 percent of registered voters casting ballots. Analysts said the turnout suggested that the sluggish economy and 18 percent unemployment rate were more on Croats’ minds than gay marriage.

The referendum pitted conservative groups and the church against the government and human rights activists, which see gay rights as an important barometer of Croatia’s social progress. 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.

Stephen Bartulica, a professor of political philosophy at the Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb, and a leading campaigner on the yes side, said that the union was being conflated in Croatia with creeping secularism. “There is a feeling that gay marriage and adoption by gays was on the agenda, and this vote was an attempt to show that there is strong opposition to this,” he said. The union took no official position on the referendum.

The referendum was organized by a conservative group, In the Name of the Family, whose supporters said they were concerned that the legalization of gay marriage in other European Union countries like France, Spain and the Netherlands would be foisted upon Croatia. The group argued that same-sex marriage was morally wrong and could undermine the country’s social fabric.

“Marriage is the only union enabling procreation,” Cardinal Josip Bozanic said in a letter read out in churches on Sunday.

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.


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