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Could Romania be about to pass civil unions for same-sex couples?

A petition to ban same-sex marriage was signed nearly 3 million times

Could Romania be about to pass civil unions for same-sex couples?
A petition to ban gay marriage has been signed nearly 3 million times

Romania could be able to pass civil unions for same-sex couples, as a ‘compromise’ between religious and LGBTI rights groups.

As I have written before, for the past year and a half the LGBTI community in Romania has been challenged to respond to a national campaign to ban gay marriage in the Constitution, led by the powerful Orthodox Church and by groups connected with the religious right in the United States.

After raising 2.7 million signatures, the discriminatory initiative lays in the Romanian parliament, with a large majority of political parties and politicians openly expressing their support for the ban.

At the same time the public discourse surrounding legalizing civil partnerships has shifted tremendously. Opinion leaders, journalists, even some conservative voices have expressed publicly support for legal recognition of same sex couples.

Several politicians have done the same thing and now a bill in the parliament has received positive recommendations from two parliamentary committees, a first. Some might dare say that we’re witnessing an opportunity for civil partnerships to become a reality in Romania.

However, there are a few aspects to take into account.

First and foremost, the current bill sitting in the parliament is far from perfect. Even LGBTI-friendly voices and activists admit certain rights included in the draft are not clearly explained and coordinated with current Romanian legislation regarding married couples.

Moreover, the political environment in Romania has been dominated now for months by anti-corruption, following mass protests in February. The referendum to ban gay marriage has been used as a political tool by all major parties.

Nowadays the Social Democrats seem to be taking the lead in promoting the referendum, while their embattled leader, Liviu Dragnea, recently expressed support for civil partnerships:

‘Let’s be honest. We have in Romania a category of citizens with a different sexual orientation (…) we must find a solution for them as well.’

This sort of double-sided discourse is practiced by other political parties as well. The Liberals have supported strongly the ban on same-sex marriage in the parliamentary electoral campaign, now they claim they’ve included legalization of civil partnerships in their platform.

The new, populist anti-corruption party Save Romania Union have been ambivalent on the issue as well, facing strong public pressure from within their ranks, as their electorate is comprised mainly out of urban, educated, young, middle class people.

However, within this party the more progressive wing has made some serious steps in favor of legalization of civil partnerships.

On the other side, various religious bodies have come out publicly and have used their influence in order to kill the bill concerning civil partnerships. As expected, the Coalition for Family, the main organization trying to ban marriage equality in the Constitution, and the Orthodox Church asked the parliament to reject the bill.

The leader of the Evangelical church called civil partnerships ‘ugliness’, while Baptists and Catholics called it ‘an attempt to destroy the family’. In one week major religious entities declared war on civil partnerships, using their full power to influence politicians to reject the bill meant to legalize same sex unions.

On top of that the issue of banning abortions is gaining traction, with the Orthodox Church assuming, for the first time in history, officially, organizing a major anti-abortion march in Bucharest on 25 March. Both same-sex marriage and women’s reproductive rights seem to be under attack.

The LGBTI community find itself in a rather difficult situation. Lacking resources and at times know how, activists are trying to both stand off to all of the attacks directed at LGBTI people and their families, while building solidarities within the community.

Groups have been more active in various parts of Romania, not only in Bucharest. Community events are often held in Bucharest. Public support for civil partnership seems to be on the rise, even though there is no clear data to confirm this.

During a recent national tour in Romanian universities organized by the Coalition for Family, people in the audience protested against their hateful messages.

There is room for more support and visibility. We are yet to witness a major coming out in Romania, a country with a dense pop scene, but with many artists or public figures too scared to come out.

For a year and a half the LGBTI community has been engaging in a long-term fight for equal rights. Opportunities shift all the time, the community is being used in different political games without its knowledge, while LGBTI people still face discrimination.

Could civil partnerships be a beacon of light in a sea of pessimism? Would civil partnerships delay full equality or protect LGBTI families? Difficult questions which remain unanswered. Regardless, the winds have changed for the LGBTI community in Romania. How do we take advantage of this?

Vlad Viski is the president of MozaiQ, a LGBTI organization in Romania.  

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