By Bojan Kavcic
LJUBLJANA — Slovenians voted Sunday against granting gay couples rights similar to those of married heterosexuals, in a referendum forced by conservative groups and the Catholic Church.
With over 99 percent of ballots counted, the results showed that 54.77 percent of voters rejected a proposed new family code while 44.23 percent backed it, the electoral commission of the eurozone member state announced.
“It remains to be seen what impact such a delay will have on children, families and the rest,” said Majda Potrata, deputy head of the opposition Social Democrats which led the previous government that drafted the bill.
Pre-referendum opinion polls had predicted an outcome of about 60 percent in favour of the proposed measure, with warnings that a low voter turnout would favour conservatives in the country of some two million people.
The commission said turnout was about 29.95 percent, lower than predicted by pollsters.
Under Slovenian law, if a bill is rejected in a referendum it cannot go back to parliament for another 12 months.
Conservative civil groupings backed by the Catholic Church had challenged the new Family Code passed by parliament in June 2011 and gathered the 40,000 signatures needed to force a referendum on its implementation.
Centre-right prime minister Janez Jansa’s Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) also opposed the bill, and expressed its satisfaction over the vote result.
“The Family Code did have some good elements, but there were many things that were not properly solved,” SDS spokeswoman Alenka Jeraj said.
But the ruling coalition’s Citizen’s List junior partner said it regretted the result which it blamed on a low voter turnout.
“We expected citizens would show more interest (in the code) and would cast their votes,” party spokeswoman Polonca Komar told the STA news agency.
Under the code, homosexual couples would have been able to register their partnership and attain the same legal status as marriage concerning issues like property, inheritance and hospital visitation rights.
The only exception concerns adoption. Under the code, one partner can adopt the child of the other, but a gay couple cannot jointly adopt a child.
The previous Family Code, which will now stay in force for at least another year, was adopted in 1976 when Slovenia was still part of communist Yugoslavia and amended several times over the last decades.
Slovenian President Danilo Turk said the referendum was not necessary and only undermined the authority of the eurozone country’s legislators.
“The Code is good and could have entered into force immediately. For the sake of the legislator’s authority, it would be better to have laws implemented and not contested on referendums,” Turk told AFP after voting in central Ljubljana.
Opponents of the bill say it devalues the institution of the family.
“The law must be rejected since it does not respect the basic rights of children,” said Ales Primc, head of the Civil Initiative group that spearheaded the referendum.
Ljubljana’s Archbishop Anton Stres has backed the group, and priests have even urged Catholics attending mass to vote against the initiative.
“This referendum is a typical case of a cultural battle over who should decide about people and their destinies,” Vlado Miheljak, a professor of social and political psychology at Ljubljana University, told AFP.
Copyright © 2012 AFP. All rights reserved
Photo AFP, Jure Makovec