Slovenia could become the first former Yugoslavian state to legalise same-sex marriage if citizens vote yes in the country’s second referendum on the issue on December 20.
Historically, Slovenia has been more liberal towards homosexuality than many other parts of Eastern Europe, and top politicians including prime minister Miro Cerar and president Borut Pahor have spoken out in favour of marriage equality. However, a 2012 referendum failed as 55% voted against same-sex marriage, and there is strong opposition concentrated among rural citizens and conservative groups, supported by the Slovenian Catholic Church
On March 3, the Slovenian parliament passed amendments to the Marriage and Family Relations Act, which grant equal status to same-sex and heterosexual unions. 51 of Slovenia's 90 members of parliament voted for the amendments, while 28 voted against.
The proposed changes to the Marriage and Family Relations Act will be enacted if less than 20% vote against them in the December 20 referendum. If more than 20% vote against, the referendum can still be enacted if at least 51% vote for the changes.
This quorum rule is in accordance with new legislation adopted in 2013 that aimed to protect parliament's lawmaking powers and limit the rejection of bills supported by the government.
Slovenian law also requires that at least 20% of the nation's voters, approximately 340,000 people, must cast votes in order for the referendum to be valid.
Polls were opened December 15-17 for those who will not be able to vote on December 20. Data from the first day of early voting shows that 6,514 people, or 0.38% of the electorate, cast votes, which is nearly double the number who voted in 2012. They included Cerar, who cast his vote before leaving for the European Council meeting in Brussels, daily Vecer reported.
The referendum was called after a church-backed group named It is About Our Children collected the 40,000 signatures needed to request a referendum.
Any law passed by the parliament can be tested with a referendum, provided citizens gather enough signatures. There are exceptions for laws on human rights, financial and state security issues. However, the constitutional court decided on October 22 that this is not a human rights issue.
Slovenia was the first republic within the former Yugoslavia to legalise homosexuality, back in 1977, and the Ljubljana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival founded in 1984 is the oldest gay and lesbian film festival in Europe. Since 2006, gay and lesbian couples in Slovenia have been able to register same-sex partnerships.
Ljubljana has numerous gay clubs and even the only gay sauna in the region. Slovenia’s second city Maribor as well as the town of Celje near Ljubljana are also known to be gay-friendly, as is the coastal town of Piran.
Supporters of marriage equality have united under the Cas je Za (“the time is now”) umbrella, a campaign backed by several political parties including the Social Democrats and United Left and numerous NGOs. Cas je Za managed the campaign via social media, organising events, workshops and other events throughout the country.
Cerar’s Party of Modern Center (SMC) has urged voters - including all members of his party - to support same-sex marriage, local media reported. SMC has a pro-yes campaign on Twitter where its officials post their activities connected to the referendum.
The campaign against the referendum have been led since early December by the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Stanislav Zore has called on voters to reject the amendments, saying that a classic family consists of a man and a woman, the cornerstone on which stands the church, society and nation, Radio-televizija Slovenije reported. On December 16, Pope Francis also urged Slovenian politicians to stand up for family values.
The influence of the church is mostly present in rural areas with an elderly population who traditionally respect the authorities - both religious and civilian.
However, despite the active yes and no campaigns, this has not been an emotive issue in Slovenia. The focus in the nation of just over 2mn is mainly on the economy and economic progress - privatisation has proved to be much more contentious, bringing thousands out onto the streets earlier this year.
Slovenia’s neighbor Croatia, a fellow EU member and former Yugoslavian republic, rejected same-sex marriage and adoption in a referendum in 2013, but couples are able to register their partnerships.
In case of a yes vote, Slovenia will become the 11th EU member state to approve same-sex marriage, following countries including France, Spain and the UK.