The outcome of the referendum organized in Romania in the past few days took many by surprise: those who were confident about the positive outcome of the initiative sadly discovered its failure, and those who attempted a boycott realized that hadn’t met the required quorum.
In fact, only 21.10% (3.857.308) of Romanian citizens cast their ballots on October 6 and 7 to express their opinion on the amendment to the article of the Constitution that refers to the family. The low turnout at the polls, well below the 30% voter threshold required for the result to be valid, has voided the referendum. As a result, the Article of the Constitution that states that “the family is founded on the freely agreed marriage between spouses” will not be replaced with the expression that refers to marriage “between a husband and a woman.”
Statistical data released by Romania’s electoral board shows that 91.56% were in favour of the proposed change in the Constitution, 6.47% against, while 1.97% were void votes. More than 3.8 million Romanian citizens cast their ballots, 800 thousand more than those who signed the petition requesting the referendum, an initiative of the Coalition for the Family, representing 45 Romanian organizations, including two Catholic organizations: the Association for Catholic families “Vladimir Ghika” and Catholic Action. But while only few Romanians showed up at polling stations, some of which remained empty, in some of the voting stations abroad Romanian citizens stood on line to cast their ballots.
More than 126 thousand voted abroad:
Italy features the largest group of Romanian residents, amounting to over 27 thousand , followed by Romanians living in Spain, Great Britain, Germany, United States and Canada. In two weeks, the campaigns for and against the referendum divided the population and society as a whole. The citizens’ initiative, meant as an action in favour of the natural family was berated as a procedure “against gay marriage” by some and as a false issue for Romanian society amounting to a waste of public money. Others said it was a political move exploited by members of Government or by politicians in trouble with the law for their own advantage, seen that the Referendum question was generic and somewhat cast doubts over its very object.
Churches have been accused of interfering in political life, and the promoters of the referendum of interfering in citizens’ private life, politicians have been accused of having manipulated a citizens’ initiative and the majority have been accused of wanting to decide regardless of the opinion of minority groups.
The referendum’s boycott campaign was supported by members of political parties, opinion-leaders, artists and journalists; social networks and a number of media outlets spread the propaganda. Romanian faith communities, especially the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, took the positive outcome for granted, considering the high percentage of citizens who claim religious affiliation (92%). Those who oppose the Social-Democratic party, that holds a Parliament majority, feared that the results could be rigged, as occurred with the 2012 referendum.
Announcing winners and losers, interpreting the results, explaining the underlying reasons for the low turnout, shifting the blame and targeting those responsible promptly followed the counting of votes. Some said the outcome of the vote signals the secularization of Romania, while others said the referendum boycott is a sign of democracy and a veto for the incumbent Romanian government.
Dignitaries from the Romanian Orthodox Church said they consider the referendum a veritable religious census and concluded that Orthodox Christianity represents a minority in Romania. The referendum has upset individuals, beliefs, communities, and the society as a whole. The Churches called for spiritual unity and made appeals to restore harmony and peace, reiterating the teachings on the family and marriage. Will it be enough? Many questions are yet to be answered. This referendum could become a case study for sociologists, politicians, communicators. It should equally serve as food for thought for the Churches. Will they manage to meet the challenge?