Sunday, 7 October 2018

Why the Romanian constitutional amendment to redefine marriage failed

The constitutional amendment to redefine the family will fail because only about 20% of the Romanian electorate voted, even though most who voted will have voted in favour of the amendment. A turnout of 30% was required.

Marriage in Romania will continue to be between men and women because that is what the law says, even though the constitution does not require it.

I just saw some angry man called Fabio Luciani on the Euronews Facebook wall saying: 
"Why did the Western democracies allowed this illiterates [sic] get into the Union? This was nonsense. Certain standards concerning democratic values and respect for human rights should be met before joining."
What, you might naively think, is undemocratic about holding a referendum? The referendum was held after 3 million Romanians (out of a total population of 20 million) petitioned for the definition of marriage to be changed from "between spouses" to "between a man and a woman". Holding a referendum after a petition gets such a large number of signatures seems very democratic, though other petitions also attracted enough signatures and have not yet been put to the vote.

The idea for the petition first came from a group called Campaign for Family Life but I do not know where they came from, and nor does anyone I speak to. The initiative did not come from the ruling post-Communist party and I don't think it was from the bishops. Before the referendum campaign the bishops rarely spoke about homosexuality, which was their way of showing toleration, because if they talked about it they would have to condemn it.

It was however backed by the Orthodox and other churches, including the Catholics, though the Pope said nothing.

The idea for changing the constitution came up some years ago in Parliament and won broad support there, but the then Prime Minster shut down discussion of it, I imagined for fear of offending enlightened opinion in Western Europe.

Allowing voting to take place over two days instead of one was for some reason considered undemocratic. I don't know who thinks up these complaints or how whoever they are understand 'rule by the people'.

Had 30% of the electorate voted this weekend this would have meant that the definition of marriage would be marriage between a man and woman, but this could have been changed back, after another referendum. This seems very democratic.

Or perhaps not because, for politicians as for Humpty Dumpty, words mean 'whatever I want them to mean'.

Why did the referendum fail? 

When I came to live in Bucharest twenty years ago it seemed to me like Babylon and that homosexuality was the only sexual sin that shocked people. 

In fact that was not true. Romanians are quite easily but not deeply shocked. They are very great believers in original sin and do not expect much from their fellow man. In those days, though, homosexuality was illegal and not spoken about. Now townies have become much more broad minded, even including church-goers. 

Another reason the referendum lost is that it was proposed by the post-communist governing Social Democratic Party, which gets its votes from the peasants whom the Communists made into a rural proletariat, and from factory workers. 

Having to have a referendum the ruling party took advantage of it as a way of distracting attention from the fact that the leader of the party is charged with various offences and the party keeps trying to find ways of releasing well connected people convicted of corruption, on the ground of overcrowded prisons. These attempts periodically lead to massive street protests. The government's unpopularity kept people at home. 

And voting for the amendment seemed a vote against Europe and modernity - which no doubt it was - and in favour of the corrupt and unheroic past - even in favour of Vladimir Putin. 

In Romania, as in America and Britain, all sorts of things get blamed on Mr. Putin.

And in a country where very many children live in great poverty and are too often ill treated or sexually abused this referendum, which cost EUR 38 million (how could it?), seemed to many or most people unnecessary, hypocritical.

And it was a sunny weekend and the vote was not along party lines or to form a government. Why not go to the park?

People in capital cities these days increasingly belong to a single international class, at odds with their compatriots in the provinces and countryside. New Yorkers and Californians fear rural conservatives and small town hicks, who do not have their sophistication, and the people of Bucharest despise the peasants. 

This does not mean the people of Bucharest want single sex marriage - only 4% of Romanians do - and perhaps fewer want homosexuals to adopt children.

The rulers of the EU fear rural Eastern Europe, but Romania is not another problem child for Brussels. Romanians are model democrats, in fact. The Euro-panjandrums  can relax for a moment, before going back to worrying about Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia. 

And Italy and Austria and Germany. 
And Brexit.


  1. Hi thank you for your article. However, i really think that you have missed out an important point, in that being how the question for the referendum was formed " Do you agree with modifying the constitution as agreed in the parliament ?" . This is not a just question about the LGBT marriage, it takes advantage of that topic and in the end you agree with unknown changes in the constitution .... this is not democratic, it is abuse of power.

  2. Quite true about how the people in capitals, and some other urban centers are more and more living and thinking differently than the rest of the country.
    Calling a referendum like this "undemocratic" and complain as the chap you quote does, is worse than hypocrisy. Increasingly getting the impression confirmed that democracy in the EU is dead. It is democratic, free, your vote has an influence etc. But only if you vote the right way.

  3. I entirely agree with the comment regarding the (no doubt deliberately) unspecific wording of the referendum question. Many Bucurestians I know were very disturbed by this aspect of the referendum. A further - surely undemocratic - aspect of the referendum was the 30 percent turnout for validation (not even 30 percent of votes cast in favour). Does anyone know any "civilized" country where this threshold would be considered acceptable?

    1. I was told the first point was black propaganda but the government were ill advised not to spell out in the ballot paper what amendment they meant. The second point is strange - there was no threshold in for example the Brexit referendum. There was - thankfully - one in the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum.

  4. Rather off the main subject, but surely the threshold in the Brexit referendum was a simple majority of votes cast - or is that not considered a threshold?

  5. Really liked the article and how you presented your arguments - you are right in why the referendum failed. I would also like to add that because of the EU aggressive intervention from last week both left wing and right wing parties (PSD and PNL) were too scared to support it not to loose their electorate- an EU intervention that felt a bit undemocratic since it was something that 3 million people wanted. This made me realise why you and others supported Brexit. I feel that this referendum was used as a tool to put people with same origins against each other, to point fingers at one another('Divide et impera', but what is the final objective of the politicians I wonder?). In the end it didn't even matter what you thought on the subject because it was presented in mass-media as 'you either go and you are a Dragnea supporter or you don't and you are a USR supporter' - which is completely unrelated to the referendum. Regarding your well-supported views, I have noticed a lot of people have started following the western behaviour, in which they only present their views with no arguments and refuse to accept a different opinion, even if documented, banning the other person completely (I have recently been banned from Facebook from two people from the millenials generation (like mylself) because for this exact issue: I was arguing a different point of view, and they couldn't come up with arguments so they just banned me because they could say nothing against what I was saying). It's sad that in today's supposedly democracy it is becoming increasingly difficult to say your point of view. So even though sometimes I disagree with what you are saying, you always document your point of view and thus I accept it and congratulate you for having the courage to speak up your mind. Keep doing it, maybe more people will follow this. On a small note, my comments are not political, I am not a supporter of either party, and they are not on the actual question that was asked in the referendum, they just reflect what I have noticed in mass-media and Facebook recently - so I hope people will not attack me after saying this.