EU Watch

What Is 'Family'? Romania Embroiled in Constitutional Debate

Families should be for everyone, not only for couples made up of a man and a woman. 100 civil society organizations and citizens of Romania want to stop a referendum aimed at further restricting the constitutional definition of "family."

by The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Romania – the Helsinki Committee
100 non-governmental organizations, civic movements and citizens from Romania created a platform called "RESPECT. The Platform for Rights and Freedoms" (RESPECT. Platforma pentru Drepturi și Libertăți) to stop an amendment to the Romanian Constitution that would restrict fundamental rights and liberties by redefining the legal definition of "family."

The creation of the platform began in May 2017, when a manifesto of its vision was drafted, which was based on the following principles: "We are all equal citizens: RESPECT for all! Human rights and fundamental freedoms cannot be put to a vote."

The signatories are urging other civic movements, organizations and citizens to mobilize and stand up for these principles, which are essential in a democracy. The signatories are also urging politicians and state institutions to stop the referendum aimed at amending the Constitution. Moreover, they are planning to address members of the European Parliament.

3 million signatures

In 2016, a citizens' initiative called "The Coalition for the Family" (Coalitia pentru Familie), who’s leaders are unknown, submitted over 3 million signatures from citizens to the Parliament, requesting the amendment of the Constitution in order to redefine the notion of a family. At the moment, the Constitution of Romania, adopted in 1991, defines “family” in Article 48 as it follows:

"Family is founded on the free consent between spouses, on their equality and on the right and duty of parents to ensure the raising, education and training of children."

The initiators of the amendment want the constitutional text to be modified to say:

"Family is based on the free consent between a man and a woman...."

This has initiated a series of heated debates that have been dividing Romanian society in the past few months, particularly because the so-called Coalition for the Family seems not to want to stop here, but to continue targeting certain rights and impose restrictions over women and LGBT people by, for example, contesting the right to abortion and to artificial insemination.

Referendum upcoming?

Romania does not yet have legislation allowing for civil partnerships, nor is it legal for same-sex couples to be married. This issue was not raised in public space, not even by organizations that advocate for LGBT rights.

The initiative for this constitutional amendment was validated by the Constitutional Court of Romania, which found that it fulfills the legal conditions, and the Chamber of Deputies has already voted by an overwhelming majority to hold a referendum on the amendment of the Constitution.

Now the second chamber of the Parliament, the Senate, has to vote on whether they agree or not to modify the constitutional definition of "family."

None of the Romanian political parties has had a firm stance against this referendum. This is why civil society and civic movement have gathered to protest and challenge the Coalition for the Family. It is difficult to estimate whether there are any other options to stop this referendum. In any case, in order for the referendum to be valid, 30% of the number of voters should come out and vote.

100 organizations: 'Equal rights for all'

The RESPECT platform, formally launched in Bucharest on June 7, 2017, points out that "the biggest threats to families are: poverty and corruption; the destruction of the rule of law; inequalities; lack of unity, solidarity, respect and mutual trust; limited access to housing and adequate health care services; high maternal and infant mortality; absence of equal access to quality education, including the insufficient number of nurseries and kindergartens; lack of jobs."

The founders of the Platform were the most well-known non-governmental Romanian organizations that advocate for civil rights (the Pro Democracy, APADOR-CH, Active Watch, ACCEPT, Resource Center for Public Participation, Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives, FILIA Center, The Center for Public Innovation, the Center for Independent Journalism, the Civil Society Development Foundation (FDSC), the Romania Initiative, the Demos Platform). They were joined by 87 other organizations, civic groups and citizens as members and supporters of the platform.

The "RESPECT" platform does not represent the individual positions or agendas of its members, instead being created with a single purpose, as declared in its manifesto.

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