On 20 July, the Constitutional Court of Romania was expected to release two landmark decisions concerning LGBTI rights in the country.
In a civil case filed by a Romanian-American same-sex couple, married in Belgium, the Court had to decide on the legal recognition of same-sex marriages performed withing the EU, but outside of Romania.
The Court held a hearing and postponed a decision until September.
The second major case to be settled by the Court concerns the citizens’ initiative to change the Constitution and ban gay marriage. Over 3 million signatures were raised during the past six months, mostly with help from the all-powerful Orthodox Church.
The Court decided, in a unanimous vote, that the initiative is valid and that it can go to a vote in the Parliament. The Court was expected to judge if such an initiative would restrict certain fundamental rights, making it thus unconstitutional.
However, the Court’s president, Valer Dorneanu, declared that according to both Romanian and European jurisprudence, the right to family is not a fundamental right.
Now the initiative moves forward, to the Parliament, where it has to be approved by a large two-thirds majority. Romanian political parties are known for their conservative views when it comes to LGBTI rights and many voices in Romania claim that the citizens’ initiative will pass easily through both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.
However, there are a few aspects to take into consideration. Romania will hold Parliamentary elections in November, do politicians really want such a hot topic as part of the electoral agenda? This initiative to ban same-sex marriage is a blatant insertion of the Orthodox Church and other religious groups in state affairs.
At the same time, LGBTI people are an easy target and the hatred towards them could mean scoring political points. Moreover, can the issue become a divisive issue in society, will any of the parties transform it into a hot political issue?
Immediately after the Constitutional Court’s decision was released, on Wednesday evening, approximately 200 people gathered in downtown Bucharest to protest against discrimination, mostly LGBTI people and a considerable number of allies.
People held paper hearts, chanted ‘Equal rights!’ and ‘We fight, we resist, we love’, signs were reading ‘I pay my taxes, where’s my rights?’,’Love is gay’ or ‘Love above dogma.’
The event was not approved by city hall, which lead to tensions with the police.
A couple of right wing extremists showed up, but they were dispersed quickly by the police. The protesters started leaving after just one hour, as the police kept warning everyone not to shout anything, not to display banners and threatened with fines.
The LGBTI community in Romania is not used to protest in the streets, so this event shows both that there’s an emerging LGBTI(-friendly) scene and that people are fed up with the actions taken by the Coalition for Family, the Orthodox Church within the past six months, when not only they raised 3 million signatures to ban gay marriage, but generated an extremely hostile atmosphere for LGBTI people throughout Romania.
The state was expected to protect its citizens and the Constitutional Court had to make sure that certain fundamental democratic principles are to be respected in Romania.
The Court failed to do so and passed on the responsibility to the Parliament, an institution with extremely little trust in society and faced with an upcoming electoral battle.
Should the initiative pass the Parliament, we are to expect a national referendum. A referendum to change the Constitution during the November elections would make the ‘gay marriage’ theme central to the campaign.
Romanian politicians are conservative, at the same time European signals are extremely important in Romania, which prides itself as being a beacon of a (relatively) functioning democracy, surrounded by countries such as Hungary, Poland, Russia, sliding towards authoritarianism.
While all these processes are taking place, the LGBTI community in Romania is struggling.
According to ILGA-Europe, Romania sits at the bottom of the list when it comes to the legal protection of LGBTI citizens, scoring only 23 points out of 100. The trans legislation is shamefull, making it almost impossible for trans people to transition legally, Romania does not have a national strategy concerning HIV/AIDS, while poverty is still a harsh reality for a majority of people in the LGBTI community.
There are, however, two major opportunities coming out of all the actions taken lately to ban same-sex marriage.
First, these months can help consolidate and develop the LGBTI community in Romania. Solidarity within the community and from allies is on the rise. When people feel under attack, they build group identity.
Second, more and more conservative voices in Romania are speaking out in favor of civil partnerships, which would be unheard of just last year. The passage of a bill legalizing civil partnerships for same-sex couples could be the compromise politicians and activists reach. The only questions concern the actual rights included in such a bill and if we can settle for a small half-time victory, in exchange for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Regardless of the answer, the LGBTI community in Romania is going through extremely complicated times, in a David-Goliath battle with the Orthodox Church and the conservative forces in the country.
Vlad Viski is the president of MozaiQ, a LGBTI organization in Romania.
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