How long can you ignore three million people? Romanians to vote on marriage, finally

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A Romanian Orthodox nun, flanked by priests, holds a cross while marching during a support rally for the family re-definition referendum planned for this weekend, in the small city of Draganesti Olt, 260 kilometers south-east from Bucharest, Romania, 04 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT]

Not too long ago, Romania was a country where voting was a mere impossibility. Romanian citizens did not enjoy this privilege. They could not make their voices heard and had no say on important aspects of their society. But things have changed in Romania, writes Adina Portaru.

Adina Portaru is a legal counsel for ADF International and a Romanian lawyer.

We now live in a democratic society in which elections, diverse political viewpoints and debates are part of our everyday life. We understand that petitions, elections and referenda are the cornerstones of democracy and instruments which we are still learning to appreciate.

In May 2016, three million Romanians made an unprecedented use of one of these democratic instruments and supported a citizens’ initiative to change our Constitution. This is the first citizens’ initiative since the fall of Communism. It was an incredibly symbolic event for a nation that had been silenced for so long.

However, for some of the more ‘progressive’ politicians in Romania, the newly discovered political conscience of their constituents appears to be somewhat inconvenient.

Suddenly, citizens are speaking up and their message does not necessarily comply with all aspects of the current political agenda. This is especially the case when it comes to marriage and its proposed constitutional definition as the union between a man and a woman.

Thus, it is of little surprise that the initiative has gone through a long, painful process and overcome endless obstacles. First, Romanians were told that the country lacks a law governing the organisation of such a referendum. When this law finally had finally passed, Romanians were then told that this was “unconstitutional” altogether.

Several politicians have challenged the constitutionality of the law on the referendum more than five times before our highest court. Both chambers of parliament declined to claim competence as they were not sure about procedural rules.

It has been an incredibly long journey. After two and a half years of delays and roadblocks, Romanians will finally have their say on one of the most fundamental issues in society, namely marriage.

The definition in the Constitution should reflect the values and opinions held by the majority of Romanian citizens and their deeply held belief that the lifelong union of a man and a woman is the ideal place in which to raise children.

While Western powers, which lobbied hard to redefine marriage in their own countries, may look down upon this initiative, we should be able to agree at least on one basic thing: Romanian citizens have been silenced for too long. Nobody should simply be ignored because of their beliefs.

The European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice have consistently affirmed that the regulation of marriage is something done at the national level. Some member states have redefined marriage, while others have decided to consolidate and strengthen their current interpretation in their national Constitutions.

Romanians will cast their vote this weekend. It has taken two and a half years of delay to reach this point. That is a sad indictment of the politicians who stood in the way of their people.

This weekend, the people will be silenced no longer.

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