The majority of Croatians have voted to outlaw same-sex marriage in a referendum held by the newest European Union member state, according to preliminary results released Sunday.
In the referendum that split the nation and sparked protests, voters had to answer the question: “Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?”
The state electoral commission said that 65 percent of voters answered “yes”, while 34 percent voted "no."
Following the referendum, Croatia will have to amend its constitution to define marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”. At present, the constitution in predominantly Catholic Croatia does not define marriage.
As the vote was being conducted, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that the referendum shouldn't be used to decide on the “intimate issues within every family”, shortly after casting his own ballot.
Earlier on Sunday Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said
after casting his ballot that the referendum shouldn't be used to
decide on the “intimate issues within every family”.
He added that “this is a sad and senseless referendum and I hope this is the last time that we have a referendum on a question like this,” as cited by Balkan Insight.
The country’s president, Ivo Josipovic, shared the same view, saying “we did not need this referendum.”
The idea for the vote was introduced by the Church-backed ‘In the Name of the Family’ citizens’ group, which collected over 750,000 signatures demanding a nationwide vote on gay marriage.
“We believe that marriage, children and family are so important issues that the whole society has to decide on them,” the leader of the initiative, Zeljka Markic, told AFP.
The conservatives in the country, which joined the EU this year, started to fear that same-sex marriage would become legal as the center-left government introduced a bill granting the right to gay couples to register as “life partners”.
The issue has sparked mass protests and created a rift within the country, dividing the country’s 4.2 million residents. Key public figures and human rights proponents have spoken out against the vote, calling on people to vote 'no' in the referendum.
More than a thousand protesters came out to march against the referendum on Saturday, braving the cold weather to express the opinion that the vote was discriminatory.
"We urge voters... to protect minority rights so that no one in Croatia becomes a second class citizen," gay rights activist Sanja Juras told the demonstrators.
Protesters marched through the city’s center while carrying signs reading: “Homosexuality is not a choice but hatred is,” and “let's protect all loves.” As they reached the national Parliament, the demonstrators took out a large rainbow flag.
According to the most recent survey, 68 percent of Croatians are likely to vote 'yes' on Sunday, and 27 percent ‘no,’ AFP reported. This Sunday’s referendum will not require a majority voter turnout for the result to be official, according to the country’s law.
Same-sex couples have very few rights in Croatia. In 2003 the country passed a law recognizing unregistered cohabitations for same-sex couples, who lived together for more than three years, but still granted very limited rights. For example, the law included inheritance and financial support rights, but excluded the right to adopt.
The referendum is the first vote initiated by the citizens themselves since the country’s independence following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.