Romania approaches marriage crossroads

Marriage | Court considers allowing same-sex marriage as lawmakers mull referendum
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 9/22/16, 12:54 pm

Romania’s Constitutional Court further delayed ruling on a petition to recognize same-sex marriage this week. The court previously postponed the decision from July to September and Tuesday rescheduled the ruling again for Oct. 27, asking the involved parties to appear once more for further discussion.

The delay comes as another separate initiative, a national referendum to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, makes it way through Romanian courts and the legislature.

Although the two developments in Romania are distinct, “in the end, what is at stake is the definition of marriage,” said Adina Portaru, legal counsel for the Europe office of ADF International, the global arm of Alliance Defending Freedom. “That is very clear.”  

The case before the court involves two men married in Belgium in 2010. The men, Claibourn Robert Hamilton, an American, and Adrian Coman, a Romanian, want Romania to recognize their union as a marriage so they can permanently relocate and retire in the country. Romania does not recognize civil partnerships for same-sex couples or same-sex marriage, so immigration authorities will not allow Hamilton permanent residency.

“Nobody else’s rights are infringed upon if Clai gets residence in Romania or if he can talk to a doctor as my spouse if I am in the emergency room in Bucharest,” Coman said.

But pro-family groups argue the case sits atop a slippery slope.

At issue in both the court case and the referendum is a discrepancy between the civil code and the constitution of Romania, Portaru said. The civil code says marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman and expressly states Romania shall not recognize same-sex unions or marriages contracted abroad. However, the constitution uses more general language, speaking of “marriage between spouses.”

A number of groups supporting biblical marriage rallied 3 million signatures for a citizen initiative—well over the 800,000 required—in support of aligning the language of the constitution with the civil code. They argue the civil code is clear on same-sex marriage and it was never the intention of the drafters of the constitution to allow it so the constitution should be clarified democratically. In July, the Constitutional Court upheld the initiative. It now moves to the legislature and then to the ballot.

“Society should protect and strengthen marriage, not further undermine it,” Portaru said. “That was the goal behind the initiative that the citizens of Romania put forward, and the Constitutional Court was right to uphold the Romanian people’s freedom to affirm this social policy.”

But Hamilton and Coman argue the civil code, a lower-level law, is not in accordance with the constitution, so the civil code provision must be struck down as unconstitutional.

Groups backing the referendum want the process to move quickly enough to put the question on the parliamentary election ballot in December, making the 30-percent voter turnout required for a referendum more likely.

Regardless of the timing, Portaru said, “what the Romanian citizens are missing is a sense of urgency.” Eighty-one percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, though only about 44 percent attends church once a month or more, according to a July 2015 poll by the Romanian research firm INSCOP. Traditional marriage is widely upheld—so much so that it is hard to convince someone they need to vote for it, Portaru said, asking, “What is the novelty? What is the urgency? They see it as such a normal thing and they miss why they should be voting or signing a petition.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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