Why this story matters:
-- by Claudia Ciobanu, October 2017
Romania is edging closer to a referendum that could amend the Constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual bond. This comes after a group called 'Coalition for Family' gathered 3 million signatures last year to trigger the referendum.
Despite being presented as a grassroots initiative that reflects the Romanian people's wish to safeguard 'traditional marriage' in a changing contemporary world, the referendum idea is not unique to Romania: Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia have been through similar motions.
One one hand, it could be said that this is a pan-European phenomenon: attempts to mobilise people against gay rights have been made in other countries across Europe, not just in the post-communist part of the continent. On the other, the trend seems particulary salient and uniform in the Eastern half of the EU and beyond.
Political scientist Cristian Pirvulescu was quoted saying: "These are all attacks on the liberal philosophy of democratic states and they come together. What happened in Russia is being reproduced here, in Hungary, Poland and Romania.”
Obviously, the initiatives contribute to a polarisation of societies between the 'traditionalists' and the 'modern', the religious and the European, and so forth. This division comes in handy to Central and Eastern Europe's illiberals who are also trying to rally voters behind a conservative vision of society.
However, it is definitely worth noting that there are non-European elements at play. U.S. Christian conservative groups offer support to local initiatives. In Romania, two organisations categorised in the U.S. as 'anti-LGBTQ hate groups', the Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Council, have shared legal advice and campaigning skills. The presence of American groups has been documented in other places where the legislation concerning gay rights toughened suddenly in the last years, including Russia. While the range of their influence is hard to gauge, it does lend a global flavour to a homegrown problem.
Details from the story:
- The Romanian government plans to organise a referendum this fall to change the Constitution to spell out marriage is between a man and woman (at the moment, the Constitution refers to 'marriage between spouses').
- This is the result of a petition signed by 3 million people to change the Constitution. The mobilisation was organised by 'Coalition for Family', a group of 40 + mostly religious and pro-life groups, with significant support from the powerful Orthodox Church.
- The intiative is not unique to Romania. Similar referendums have happened in Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia in the last years, with mobilisation for similar conservative causes happening in other countries, East and West, European and beyond.
- U.S. Christian conservative groups usually offer legal and campaigning advice.
- Scholars such as Andrea Peto (Hungary) or Agnieszka Graff and Elżbieta Korolczuk (Poland) see these initiatives as part of a global 'anti-gender' movement, which includes efforts to stifle women's rights in Poland. This is seen as a response to the failure of neo-liberalism and feeding into efforts to build illiberal regimes in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.
**This article was written as part of a NewsMavens collaboration with exceptional freelance women journalists in Europe. Claudia Ciobanu is a freelance reporter covering central and eastern Europe. Her articles have appeared in The Guardian, Reuters and Politico, among others. Follow her on Twitter here.**