Relations Reporting on marriage, family, and sexuality

Swimming upstream

Family | Romanians can enshrine a Biblical definition of marriage in their constitution amid a global push against it
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 9/14/18, 05:12 pm

Next month, Romanians will take to the polls to decide whether to amend their constitution to include an explicitly Biblical definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The vote comes after years of political back and forth in the country, and amid rapid change globally in support of same-sex marriage and appeasement of LGBT activists.

In 2016, a band of Romanian citizens called the Coalition for Family launched a campaign for a referendum on the constitutional definition of marriage. The civil code states marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman, but the constitution uses more general language, speaking of “marriage between spouses.” The group wanted to align the two, and although a constitutional referendum requires just 800,000 signatures, the Coalition for Family initiative convinced 3 million people to put their names on the dotted line, 15 percent of the country’s population.

In May 2017, the Romanian Parliament’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, voted to approve the referendum, and on Tuesday, the Romanian Senate voted 107-13 in support, sending the measure on to voters.

Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is “timeless, universal, and unique,” said Adina Portaru, a Romanian lawyer and legal counsel for ADF International, the global partner of Alliance Defending Freedom. “Our society should strengthen marriage and the family, not undermine it,” she said. “Allowing the referendum to take place is the right decision.”

If passed, Romania would be going against the grain internationally. Since the Netherlands first legalized same-sex marriage in 2001, 25 countries have followed suit, with five—Australia, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Germany, and Malta—last year alone. Worldwide, roughly two-thirds of the countries allowing same-sex marriage are in Romania’s neighboring Western Europe.

Despite that, Romania overwhelmingly supports a Biblical definition of marriage. A 2015 Pew Research study found 73 percent of Romanians opposed allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

LGBT advocates in Romania accused the Senate of “raising homophobia to state value and sacrificing constitutional protection for many families,” but supporters of the referendum said the vote was about defending religious convictions: “We’ve been a Christian nation for 2,000 years,” said Social Democratic Sen. Serban Nicolae.

Some Romanian politicians have affirmed their willingness to work to legalize civil partnerships for same-sex couples if the referendum is passed. But the referendum “should not be considered a trade item,” Portaru told me. “It is a right democratically earned by the 3 million supporters.”

After two years of waiting, referendum supporters are eager to get on with the vote. While the measure has been tied up in bureaucracy, Romania’s highest court this summer ruled in support of a same-sex couple arguing they deserved married residency rights in the country as European Union citizens. The ruling by the Romanian Constitutional Court followed a decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the couple’s favor, but lower national courts still need to rule.

If the referendum passes, it would not undo that court ruling, as it concerns EU-wide residency regulations, but it would send a message to the EU community that Romania is serious about defending one man–one woman marriage.

“Given its overwhelming democratic support, the referendum on marriage is a litmus test for democracy in Romania,” said Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International. “Three million voices cannot simply be ignored.”

Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne Associated Press/Photo by Steven Senne An unidentified 15-year-old high school student holds a vaping device near her school’s campus in Cambridge, Mass.

FDA gets serious about teen vaping

The Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on the vaping industry due to “epidemic” levels of e-cigarette use among teens. U.S. health officials this week ordered manufacturers to reverse the trend or risk having their flavored vaping products pulled from the market.

Once discussed as a potential tool to wean adult smokers off combustible cigarettes, the products are now under scrutiny. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he failed to predict the current “epidemic of addiction” among youth, driven mainly by flavored products.

E-cigarettes are small devices that emit a smokable vapor. Users click disposable liquid nicotine cartridges into the devices, often containing flavors like mint, chocolate, and various fruits.

Nearly 70 percent of the multibillion-dollar U.S. e-cigarette market belongs to a company called JUUL Labs. The company’s sleek, rectangular devices have surged in popularity in recent years. While JUUL contends its mission is to improve the lives of the 1 billion adults globally who smoke combustible cigarettes, critics argue its product, which looks like a simple USB drive, is especially attractive to teens trying to hide the device from teachers and parents. Plus, high schools and middle schools claim they are confiscating the devices by the handful.

On Wednesday, the FDA ordered the five largest e-cigarette manufacturers—Blu, JUUL, Logic, MarkTen XL, and Vuse—to come up with plans to stop underage use of their products within 60 days. If they fail, the FDA said it could block sales. E-cigarette manufacturers originally had an August 2018 deadline to submit their products to the FDA for review, but Gottlieb delayed the deadline last year until 2022, saying companies and the agency needed more time to prepare—but that could change.

“I think it became clear to the FDA that if they didn’t get their arms around this issue the use of these products by kids across the nation would undo decades of progress,” said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Studies have found nicotine is harmful for developing brains, and a government-commission report released in January found teens who vape are more likely to try cigarettes.

With the vaping industry in crisis, Big Tobacco is on a high. Shares of tobacco companies surged in trading on Wednesday. —K.C.

Associated Press/Photo by Manish Swarup Associated Press/Photo by Manish Swarup Indian children watch a political protest earlier this summer in New Delhi.

Lesson not learned

While China wrestles with a demographic crisis in the wake of its childbirth policies, India is considering following in its footsteps. Last month, 125 lawmakers in the Indian Parliament signed a petition to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind calling for a state-enforced two-child policy.

“India should not repeat China’s mistakes,” said Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “People are the ultimate resource—the one resource you cannot do without—as China is belatedly discovering after having eliminated 400 million from their own now-aging and dying population.” —K.C.

Yale’s notable LGBT representation

A survey of Yale University’s class of 2022 published in the Yale Daily News found more than 20 percent of incoming students identify as LGBTQ: 5 percent of students identify as homosexual, 9 percent as bisexual or transsexual, and 8 percent as asexual or questioning their sexual orientation. The latest Gallup estimate of the percent of Americans who identify as LGBT is 4.5 percent. —K.C.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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