By Todor Gardos, Amnesty International’s Balkans Campaigner
Slovenia is on its way to becoming the first country in Central Europe to allow same-sex couples to marry. Its citizens should feel proud of this historic opportunity to widen the scope of civil rights by voting in the referendum that closes 20 December.
By legalizing same-sex marriage, 13 European countries have already recognized that registered civil partnerships are not equal to civil marriage. Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to truly enjoy their human rights without discrimination in the same way as couples of the opposite sex.
Worldwide, more and more states acknowledge that restrictive marriage laws are simply a form of discrimination, and are taking the necessary steps to eliminate it. This strengthens the human rights movement everywhere. As long as people are beaten, jailed, raped or killed in many parts of the world for being who they are and for loving who they love, it is critical to keep pushing for full equality before the law regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Voters in Slovenia can make their mark in civil rights history by voting ‘For’ equality.
Voters in Slovenia can make their mark in civil rights history by voting ‘For’ equalityTodor Gardos, Amnesty International's Balkans Campaigner
In March of this year, bitter debate followed the national assembly’s clear majority endorsing amendments to the marriage and family relations act, making the country’s marriage and family laws gender-neutral, allowing same-sex couples to marry, to be eligible for adoption and to enjoy the same economic, social and cultural rights as opposite-sex couples. Opponents to the amendments launched a campaign to stop the law from entering into force through a referendum. After several months of deliberation, the constitutional court reversed a ban on the referendum drive, enabling this week’s poll. Human rights of a minority should not be determined by a vote, but should always be protected by the state. But citizens of Slovenia now have a chance to show their commitment to equality.
At stake on Sunday is whether the amendments can stand the scrutiny of the popular vote and put an end to this form of discrimination. But most importantly, this vote is about the couples whose lives will be directly affected by the results.
Opposition to the amendments passed in the national assembly is largely driven by a desire to protect ‘traditional’ and idealized notions of family and stereotyped concepts of protecting children from being ’exposed to’ and raised by same-sex couples. These attitudes embody the prejudices that LGBTI organizations and human rights groups such as Amnesty International stand up against. In this debate, no legitimate social purpose can be fulfilled at the expense of somebody else’s rights.
Contrary to anti-same-sex discourse, no one has a right to a child, but rather every child has a right to a family. Children are not property, nor are they the ‘foundations of society’ on whose behalf opponents of same-sex marriage may proclaim to act. Whether a particular child can be adopted by a particular couple must be based on a decision made in the best interest of that child, and not on the gender or sexual orientation of the adoptive parents.
Everyone stands to benefit from closing the gap on inequality and allowing same-sex couples to marry. As it currently stands, they are discriminated against by being denied access to civil marriage with the person they love. In Slovenia, a ‘For’ vote in the referendum would end that, while an ‘Against’ vote would block the advancement of fundamental human rights.
Amnesty International opposes discrimination in civil marriage laws and calls on states to recognize families of choice. Equal marriage is about the state recognizing the loving, committed relationships of same-sex couples, not about the approval of society. Slovenians should reach out and support the cause of same-sex couples who may wish to get married – simply by voting ‘For’.