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Romania marriage referendum: ‘Is silence the best defence against homophobia?’

Romania marriage referendum: ‘Is silence the best defence against homophobia?’

LGBTI people held protest against Romania's Constitutional Court decision

Romania votes on same-sex marriage this weekend. The demand for this referendum did not come from the LGBTI-movement, but from a few religious groups.

They want to underline in the Romanian constitution that a marriage is between a man and a woman. Does the countermovement to LGBTI-rights get the upper hand?

Weird times for the Romanian LGBTI-community.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled the LGBTI community need to have the same rights as straight people.

Romanian-American couple, that married in Belgium, wanted their marriage recognized in Romania. The Romanian authorities refused to do this. The CJEU decided that in the context of the freedom of movement people within the EU, Romania needs to grant the same rights to homosexual couples as to heterosexual couples.

Nevertheless, the Romanian Supreme Court also approved earlier to organize a referendum on same-sex marriage. They decided to organise it after they received a petition to do so, signed by 3 million citizens. The petition was set up by the Romanian Coalition for Family. This is a religious orthodox organisation that propagates traditional family values. Same-sex couples don’t have a place in the Romanian society, according to them.

In contrast to other European countries, the progress for the LGBTI community in Romania is going very slowly. After Bulgaria, the GDP of Romania is the lowest in the whole European Union.

Besides that, Romania also has the highest religiosity of all member states. This combination leaves little room for improvements for the LGBTI community.

Is it best to stay silent before a referendum on LGBTI rights? 

Marchers at this year's Bucharest Pride.
Marchers at Bucharest Pride, held on 9 June. | Photo: Larisa Baltă via Asociatia Accept

The tactic of the LGBTI community in Romania is to stay silent about the referendum. If only a small percentage of the Romanian community votes this weekend, the Supreme Court can question the validity of the referendum.

So do we really have to think it is going the right direction with LGBTI rights in Europe? The last two years the opposite is becoming more accurate. This is not just my opinion, but also high-standing reports prove that. On a legal level, the LGBTI community achieved a lot in the last two decades. Nowadays more than half of the EU-citizens live in member states where same-sex couples can marry. From Belgium to Poland, it is prohibited to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation.

But law and practice is something totally different. In most Western-European cities we see a rise of homophobic violence.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of the word! Conservative politicians from all parts of the EU attacked the LGBTI community in the last months.

The Belgian Secretary on Migration called for ‘real men’ to start wearing normal clothes again.

The Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini declared, according to him, a family can only exist out of parents from different sexes.

For its part, the Polish Minister of Defence announced he thinks ‘the LGBTI-community should stop imposing their lifestyle to the whole society’.

Homophobia is on the rise

A petition to ban gay marriage has been signed nearly 3 million times referendum
A petition to ban gay marriage has been signed nearly 3 million times

It seems like the attacks of these politicians are a last cry to counter the LGBTI-movement. Fortunately they seem to fail in their purpose, but let’s not underestimate them. The countermovement of LGBTI rights is present and let me be clear: they are better organized than ever before.

The French Front National, the German ADF or the Hungarian Jobbik have one thing in common. They have the support of a big portion of the European population. Indirectly they are supported by strong religious organisation and they are financially well-off.

An important part of the finance for extreme-right groups in Europe is coming from Russia. Certain oligarchs who have strong ties with the Kremlin, support via complex structures extreme-right parties and organisations who propagate traditional family values in Europe.

Russia spreading homophobia on an international level is not something new. In all former post Soviet Republics, there have been attempts to introduce Russia’s notorious anti-gay propaganda law. During the revolution in Ukraine, Russia was distributing posters stating accession to the EU would mean the abolishment of traditional family values.

Fight for LGBTI rights is not over

Marchers at Bucharest Pride Romania
Bucharest Pride on 9 June 2018 | Photo: Yellow via Associatia Accept

The reason for Russia’s institutionalisation of homophobia is quite clear. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin was in need of a new of a new internal enemy. This internal enemy became everything that is not consistent with the traditional Russian society. Since the beginning of the decade, the LGBTI community embodies this. It is convenient for them to combine their internal with their external enemy: the West.

Clearly the fight for equality for the LGBTI-community is far from over. We should fight hate with love. And above all, we should not lose our hope for real equality. As the famous American LGBTI activist Harvey Milk once said: ‘Hope will never be silent’. –

Rémy Bonny is a political scientist. He specializes in the politics of the LGBTI community in the European Union. His region of expertise is Eastern Europe. Follow him on Twitter.  

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