Article Title:Romania and Marriage Equality
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:28th July 2016 - 02:53 pm
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Story ID:18580
Text:Romania has had the usual inertial drag problems that many other Eastern Europe societies have with LGBTI rights and now things may be getting worse there once more. GayFest Parade Bucharest 2008. Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images In 2000, homosexuality was once more decriminalised in Romania. Therein lies a tale, as it was first decriminalised in Romania's Penal Code of 1864, modelled on the Napoleonic French decriminalisation of homosexuality that had taken place six decades beforehand, so it was legal except in cases of same-sex rape. In 1937, homosexuality was declared illegal if it 'caused public scandal', but not otherwise. In 1948, that language was removed. In 1968, however, Romania lurched backward, passing Article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code under the rule of communist Nicolae Ceaucescu and recriminalising gay sex. In 1996, the Constitutional Court of Romania 'decriminalised' homosexuality in private after the fall of the Ceaucescu regime and then the Romanian Senate finally dispensed with the obnoxious legislation in 2000, although not without rancor and opposition from neofascist parties, the Romanian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church. At the same time, the Romanian government passed anti-discrimination legislation that outlawed discrimination against lesbian and gay Romanians in the context of employment, education, accommodation, service provision, healthcare and social security. In 2002, the Romanian age of consent was equalised at fifteen years of age for straight, lesbian and gay individuals alike. As for the transgender community, gender reassignment surgery has been legal since 1996. In 2005, lesbians and bisexual women acquired access to IVF and other fertility treatment services. In 2008, the neofascist Greater Romania Party advocated legislation against 'promotion of homosexuality' akin to Britain's Thatcher era Clause 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 and similar contemporary Russian anti-gay legislation. It was heavily defeated in the Romanian Senate. In 2013, the Romanian Greens sought to introduce civil partnership and relationship equality legislation in that country. It was heavily defeated in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate and has also been defeated in Romania's Constitutional Court. However, at the same time, Romania did not pass a constitutional amendment to pre-emptively ban marriage equality. In October 2014, a second civil partnership bill was debated and lost in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate once more. As for Romania's political parties, the National Liberal Party and Democrat Party are non-commital, the Social Democrat Party is mildly opposed and the Greater Romania and Conservative Parties are strongly opposed to marriage equality. In January 2016, the Romanian Orthodox Church announced that it supported further initiatives to amend the Romanian Constitution to outlaw marriage equality and Pinknews noted that eighty-five percent of Romanians belonged to that church. In June 2016, Pinknews noted that more than a quarter of Romania’s population, around three million people, wanted to ban marriage equality. The petition against marriage equality was created by Romania's Coalition for Family and circulated around the country and in churches. The Coalition is a group of twenty three NGOs, headed by the Romanian Orthodox Church. It only needed 500,000 signatures to submit the petition to the Romanian Government, but passed their target by millions. According toMozaiQ, an LGBT rights organisation in Romania, the Coalition for Family will continue with pushing restrictive laws if they succeed in banning same-sex marriage. Bans against abortions, pornography, sex education and divorces are all in the running. Currently Romania, like many other countries in Eastern Europe, does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil unions between LGBT couples. Two prime time TV debates among politicians and cultural leaders took place already in early June 2016 over the question of changing the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Currently the constitution uses gender neutral language to describe marriage, defining it as a union of two people. This has conservatives nervous, seeing the rise of LGBTI rights across the world, and so it has launched a campaign to make sure same-sex marriage doesn’t happen in the central European country by any means possible.The groups enlisted thousands of volunteers to collect the signatures. The volunteers knocked on doors, placed advertising in public squares and on television, and put sign-up sheets in churches. To pass the movement the group had to jump through a few hoops first. Approval from the Constitutional Court, a majority vote in parliament and a national referendum were all needed. However, Romanianhuman rights advocates were worried that these things are all achievable and that the group will be able to ban same-sex marriage. Remus Cernea, an independent MP with green progressive policies, told Gay Star News that the current context represents a ‘crucial moment’ for LGBT rights in Romania. He said he hopes the Constitutional Court will agree that ‘no revision shall be made if it results in the suppression of the citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms’, as stated in Romanian law. In July 2016, however, there was bad news.Romania’s Constitutional Court took a huge step back in gay rights after the Romanian Orthodox Church was successful in its campaign against marriage equality. As noted above, while Romania currently has anti-discrimination laws in place for LGBTI people, that could all change after the Constitutional Court gave way to legislation that could lead to same-sex marriage and civil unions expressly banned in Romania. The court approved a citizen’s referendum that aims to amend the constitutional definition of family to make it clear a union is only between a man and a woman. The constitutional amendment will now be discussed by Romania's Parliament. Any proposal to amend the Romanian constitution must be approved by 75% majority of both chambers before a referendum is held. The decision was made after the Coalition for Family, a group of religious social conservative NGO groups headed by the powerful Romanian Orthodox Church, had to secure five hundred thousand signatures to submit to the Romanian government, but raised over three million. LGBTI rights leaders fear if a referendum is held to expressly ban recognition of same-sex unions, then it will not go their way. A 2012 poll found 53% of Romanians want homosexuality itself to be outlawed. 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 will move forward, to Roumania’s Parliament, where it has to be approved by a large two-thirds majority. Romanian political parties are known for their far right 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. Craig Young - 28th July 2016    
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