The cause for LGBT equality hit a setback yesterday as the people of Slovenia voted against a measure that would legalise same-sex marriage across the country. This unfortunate result continues to show the demarcation in Europe between nations supportive of marriage equality and those who are fighting against the tide of history. We can only hope that our comrades on the ground in Slovenia keep up the good work and bring about change in the near future.
For one reason or another the full results haven’t been officially declared however as I write this the Slovenian government’s figures show that 99.97% of votes have been counted. The result of the referendum are that around 392,000 people have voted against the proposition, whereas only around 225,000 supported equal marriage. As a proportion of the vote 36.5% voted in favour and 63.5% voted against; total turnout was just over 36%.
The referendum was called by conservative opponents of the government. The National Assembly passed a bill that altered the legal definition of marriage from “a union of a man and a woman” to “a union of two”. Three weeks after this vote conservatives from across the country gathered a petition of enough signatures to prompt a referendum.
The story of this referendum is interesting as it is the inverse of situations in other countries. In the United States same-sex marriage was legalised by the Supreme Court however polling had shown that long before this ruling a majority of Americans supported marriage equality. Similarly in Northern Ireland, where gay marriage is still banned, a majority of people support allowing same-sex couples to get married. In Slovenia, as this referendum result has shown, the general population are less willing to accept LGBT equality than politicians.
What is encouraging is that, according to opinion polling, most women and residents of urban areas support equality. With turnout so low the potential silver lining is that if LGBT activists can encourage people in urban areas to turnout for a future referendum, the difference between defeat and success will be overcome.
As I mentioned in the introduction there is a geographical pattern in Europe in relation to LGBT rights. The pattern is not uniform but it is a noticeable difference between East and West. In Western and Northern Europe almost every country and territory ha legalised equal marriage however the further East you go, the fewer rights LGBT people have. For example in France gay marriage is legal, in Germany civil unions are legal but equal marriage is not, and in Poland the Constitution limits marriage to between one man and one woman.
I have previously written a piece about how old attitudes in Europe are being challenged by LGBT activists however the general trend would still remain. Eastern Europe remains a bastion of homophobia and we need to redouble our efforts to help our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe, whether this is writing to Members of the European Parliament, getting the word out in our local communities, or grassroots activism in the region itself. There is a lot of media attention about the plight of the LGBT community in Russia, but there is little discussed about the similar situations in Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria etc. It is up to us to get people to pay attention to this injustice and act in whatever way we can.
To conclude this is clearly not the result that we were looking for. But there is undoubtedly a positive that can taken from this defeat. Although there are a large number of people that voted against equality, over 1 million Slovenians didn’t have a strong enough opinion to vote for either options. That means that there are 1 million people who can be convinced to support same-sex marriage. Slovenia can be a springboard to spread the cause of justice and equality into Central and Eastern Europe, thus putting pressure on these governments to bring about chance. By drawing attention to this story we can give LGBT people in Slovenia hope that a future of equality and tolerance is not too far away.