In a country where an overwhelming majority is conservative Christian and the churches are full, same-sex marriage has little support. Yet it failed to get a ban in the constitution.
It had been the main topic in the Romanian media for months: the 'family referendum'. An interest group, the 'Coalition for the Family,' had collected the necessary signatures for an initiative amendment to the constitution. Henceforth, the constitution should include that a marriage is between a man and a woman, instead of 'between spouses'. Especially after both chambers of parliament approved the bill, the referendum was the talk of the day. And in fact, it was not about gays at all.
Conservative and progressive
The Romanian Orthodox Church has a lot of influence in the country. Politicians from almost all parties therefore listen carefully to the church's views. The church's official mission is to keep everything as it is: no changes in the church itself, and no changes in society. Outside influences are viewed with suspicion - the Dutch, for example, are treated with reservation because it is a country where drugs and prostitution are openly tolerated.
In Romania's big cities, a bourgeois middle class has emerged over the past 20 years, which does not see the church as an authority in social affairs and attaches importance to issues such as stability, a government that treats citizens fairly, and connection with the rest of the EU. This group is a minority in the country, but is increasingly organising itself and developing a self-awareness based on shared interests and ideas. Gay marriage was thus a tool in the struggle between 'back to our historical values' versus 'closer to Europe'.
Indeed, it was mainly about a symbol. Gay people who want to marry in Romania are hard to find. Gay marriage is already banned in the civil code. Nor can a registered partnership. Indeed, gay marriages and registered partnerships concluded abroad are not recognised in Romania.
The most important thing the referendum has shown is that the church can still mobilise about 20% of the population to take action for the Conservative cause. After all, that was the turnout in the referendum. And because it was too low, the referendum is invalid. Political strategists will pay close attention to the results.
By Johan Bouman