A referendum to change Romania’s constitution to prevent same sex couples from securing the right to marry failed to draw enough voters to validate the result on Sunday, after a campaign that led to a rise in hate speech against the gay community.
The vote has also been seen as popularity test of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) that supported the change and whose attempts to weaken anti-corruption legislation have drawn criticism from the European Union’s executive.
Data from the national election bureau showed voter turnout stood at 20.4 percent when the polls closed at 1800 GMT, below the 30 percent required for it to be valid.
The two-day referendum, which cost $40 million, aimed to change the constitution to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman from the current gender-neutral “spouses.”
Religiously conservative Romania, which decriminalized homosexuality in 2001 decades after neighboring countries, bars marriage and civil partnerships for same sex couples.
Civil society group Coalition for the Family secured 3 million signatures to trigger the vote aimed at preventing gay couples winning the right to marry in the future.
The Coalition received backing from the Orthodox Church and other religions as well as all but one parliamentary parties.
“Romanians rejected being divided and hating each other, it is a victory for Romanian democracy and moreover, Romanians rejected the involvement of the Orthodox Church in the state’s secular affairs,” said Vlad Viski of LGBT rights group Mozaiq.
“We believe politicians must now legalize civil partnerships for same sex couples,” he said at a party to celebrate the outcome.
Dozens of human rights groups had said a successful referendum would embolden further attempts to chip away at the rights of minority groups and push Romania onto a populist, authoritarian track.
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