On 23 May the so-called ‘Coalition for Family’, a group of religious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Romania, submitted to the Romanian Parliament tens of boxes filled with 3 million signatures, raised throughout the country for the past six months, using over 80.000 volunteers, including numerous priests.
The topic? A ban on gay marriage, initiated by the Coalition, openly and actively supported by the all-powerful Romanian Orthodox Church. Back in February I had written about this process being started, now we got to a new level.
The process to change the Romanian Constitution is rather difficult, one must raise over 500.000 signatures from all over the country, followed by an approval from the Constitutional Court, an outright majority vote in the Parliament, and a national referendum.
Now, that the initiative to ban gay marriage has more then enough signatures, all eyes are focused on the Constitutional Court of Romania, which must analyze if this attempt to change the Constitution limits or not citizens’ rights. As we speak, the Romanian Constitution says that marriage is a ‘union between spouses’, the Coalition for Family wants a change to ‘marriage is a union between a man and a woman’. However, an article in the Romanian Constitution limits any changes if they lead to rights being taken away from citizens. In approximately two months, the judges are expected to release their decision.
The LGBTI community and their allies in Romania were shocked at the news of the 3 million signatures. Immediately after the news broke out, numerous journalists and writers wrote op-eds condemning the Coalition for Family and the Orthodox Church, others took to social media to express their anger.
Moreover, an open letter signed by 1000 public figures (including film producers, pop singers, people from the fashion industry, artists, intellectuals) soon became an online petition, which raised over 10.000 more signatures. Compared to 3 million, the number might seem small, but it shows that the Romanian society is yet split on the issue, with a new, urban middle class willing to support the LGBTI cause.
If we take a closer look at the Coalition for Family, we see an extremely opaque, well-funded and well-oiled organization. For the past six months they have been raising signatures, using tens of thousands of volunteers, they invested in ads and even banners and tents in public squares in major cities in Romania.
Moreover, the Coalition recently published a series of new measures they intend to propose, including a ban on abortions, on pornography, religious-inspired policies to discourage divorce, and a reshaping of the school curricula to ban sexual education and promote religious principles. Moreover, they’re asking for the creation of a “ministry for families” in the executive. The attempt to ban gay marriage in the Constitution seems to be only the first step out of many others meant to alter the separation between Church and state in Romania.
The LGBTI community in Romania seems to have very little options in the battle with the Goliath that is the Orthodox Church. Local groups are poorly funded, very few people are out and ready to represent the cause, and there is still fear amongst activists to openly ask for the legalization of gay marriage. According to ILGA-Europe, the main European organization concerned with LGBTI rights, Romania is among the worst places in Europe when it comes to the protection of LGBTI citizens.
Surprisingly, politicians stayed out of the debate so far, avoiding discussing the topic. On one hand they do not want to upset the Orthodox Church, and on another hand they are all expecting the Constitutional Court decision. Most political parties are conservative when it comes to LGBTI rights, so there is little hope they’d stand up and vote against the ban on gay marriage. At the same time, European signals can be extremely important for Romanian politics and can change the outcome of the fight for equal rights in Romania.
These days and in the upcoming months, Romania is faced with a major decision concerning not only LGBTI rights, but rather the path it wants to take when it comes to democracy, European values, separation between Church and state, and protection of minorities. It can either choose to go back to a past where abortion and homosexuality were illegal, or it can go forward and stand up for its LGBTI citizens, for equality and justice for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, bodily ability or socio-economic status.
Vlad Viski is the president of MozaiQ, a LGBTI organization in Romania.