The Romanian electoral campaign for Parliament has just began, but it seems like it has been going on forever.
It’s been three to four weeks already, the ‘gay marriage’ topic is still extremely high on the agenda, and has divided the society into ‘progressives’ and ‘backwards’. There are a few aspects to take into account in order to better understand the Romanian context today.
Throughout the year, a group called the Coalition for Family has raised 2.7 million signatures, in order to change the Constitution and ban gay marriage. Using the well-oiled network developed by the powerful Orthodox Church and know how from neo-Protestant and Catholic groups, the Coalition for Family pushed in October for a national referendum on the topic.
However, getting to the referendum, the Parliament ought to approve such a measure with a super-majority. A few parliamentarians, close to the Coalition, even introduced a bill to speed up the process. Both major parties, the social-democrats, and the liberals, came out in support of the ‘traditional family’, but did not agree on organizing a referendum during the elections.
Since then, the liberals signed an agreement with the Coalition for Family, while the social-democrats came out publicly supporting April 2017 as the closest date for the referendum to be held. Other parties tried initially to avoid the topic, and one by one, came out in support of the ‘traditional family’.
It seems that politicians have made their bets, but not without resistance from civil society. Local LGBTI NGO Accept, submitted a memorandum to the Parliament, signed by over 80 organizations from the civil society, public figures came out in support of the LGBTI community, more LGBTI people are coming out publicly, assuming an identity.
In many respects, the issue of modernity is being debated. On one hand there are those who view themselves as a new, urban generation, attached to Western values, democratic and pluralistic values, which uses social media, which keeps informed, travels, and is connected culturally to Europe. On the other hand there is a depiction of the anti-gay crowd as medieval, manipulated by the Orthodox Church. A discourse of hate is directed towards both sides.
In this polarizing game, it is the role of politicians to find common ground. President Klaus Iohannis came out recently and spoke about the need to ensure ‘social peace’, a balance between society, politics and religion.
However, soon after he found himself involved in a debate with other politicians on the topic, he backtracked. Other politicians jumped on the conservative bandwagon. During the campaign a lot of things are said and done, afterwards positions change.
There are signs that more politicians are adopting a more moderate position on LGBTI rights. For many years green independent deputy Remus Cernea has been the voice for LGBTI rights, now he is up for re-election. Will other politicians come out in support of LGBTI rights? Most likely.
On Saturday 19 November, the LGBTI community and its allies are going out into the streets, marching for equal rights. The march ‘God Doesn’t Do Politics’ tries to send a message to society and to politicians that the separation between state and Church should be respected and equal rights should be granted to LGBTI people. It is the first such a type of march for the LGBTI community in Romania, besides the yearly Bucharest Pride.
I believe it represents a test, to see how much support the LGBTI community really has in Bucharest and how much leverage it has in the conversation concerning the actions to ban gay marriage. The LGBTI community and its allies have the chance now to gain a seat at the table. Moreover, the march will be followed by a public forum on minorities, including LGBTI people, where candidates for a seat in the parliament are expected to participate.
In conclusion, I’d like to underline the fact that the recent developments in Romania come in a context in which the politicians’ position in society is quite contested, trust in the Parliament is still low, and trust in the Orthodox Church is slowly, but surely shrinking. At least, for the first time in the past decades, their role is being contested.
The LGBTI community finds itself in an awkward position of having to defend itself, but it can turn such a conservative wave into an opportunity to forge new alliances with different groups in society, to get more and more allies, to use social media and other tools in order to promote its message and consolidate a strong, proud group of people attached to democratic values.
Vlad Viski is the president of MozaiQ, a LGBTI organization in Romania.