Romanian Voters Boycott Gay Marriage Poll

Marriage remains defined as an union between spouses in the Romanian constitution, after only 20% of registered voters turned out in the referendum. A minimum of 30% was needed to validate the vote.

Only 20.41% of Romanian voters came to the polls to vote on changing the constitution to prohibit gay marriage, which was not enough to validate the referendum.

Lowest turnout in 30 years

This is the lowest turnout in a referendum in Romania in the last 30 years. A few weeks before the vote, the Government made 30% the minimum turnout to make votes like this valid. Partial results announced on 8 October, by the Central Election Bureau, suggested 90% of those who voted thought that gay marriage should be prohibited in the constitution, with 6% voting no.

The referendum sparked a heated debate in Romanian society, as it was associated with homophobic, nationalist and anti-European tendencies. The Coalition for Family, a citizens' initiative committee, gathered three million signatures two years ago, demanding the amendment of Article 48 of the Constitution, which says "The family is based on a freely consented marriage between spouses." They requested this to be changed to: "The family is based on the freely agreed marriage between a man and a woman." In their view this would have meant that it would not be possible to legalise same-sex marriage in Romania in the future.

Voters see referendum as a waste of money and a distraction from real problems

The low turnout in the referendum may have been due to the change being seen a waste of money as same-sex marriage is already illegal in Romania. Other voters saw the referendum as a way to divert attention from more pressing problems in the country and from various criticisms of the governing coalition. Although essentially a citizens' initiative, the referendum was identified by most as a tool for political manipulation, as all parliamentary parties, except one opposition party, voted for the referendum and urged people to go to the polls.

The massive absence of votes also casts doubt on the influence the Romanian Orthodox Church – which supported the amendment – still has among the majority Christian-Orthodox population.

Government moves backfire as people register to monitor voting

The referendum succeeded in mobilising people to enrol as observers of the voting process or party delegates for the party that prompted the boycott. This secured coverage of the majority of polling stations and made sure possible instances of fraud were shared on social media. Paradoxically, the Government of Romania contributed to this mobilisation when it decided, a few weeks before the referendum, to modify the law on the referendum, eliminating almost all measures aimed at monitoring and transparency of the voting system, and decided to hold the referendum for two days instead of one. Several NGOs protested these measures, calling them an incentive for electoral fraud.

APADOR-CH asked the Parliament to address these shortcomings by amending the law on the adoption of the emergency ordinance on the referendum. Without such changes, any referendum held in Romania from now on could be open to fraud, as the Computerized Monitoring System for Voting and Prevention of Illegal Vote (SIMPV) has been eliminated.