Some 65 percent of Croatians voted in a referendum Sunday to ban gay marriages in what is a major victory for the Catholic Church-backed conservatives in the European Union's newest nation. Croatia’s constitution does not currently define marriage.
A strong majority in staunchly Catholic Croatia voted on Sunday to outlaw same-sex marriage in a referendum sought by a Church-backed group but strongly opposed by rights groups, results showed.
A total of 65.76 percent of voters said they wanted to amend the constitution to include a definition of marriage as a "union between a woman and a man", according to results from almost 99 percent of polling stations released by the electoral commission.
As it stands, Croatia’s constitution does not define marriage.
The vote has divided European Union’s newest member nation. Liberal groups have said the referendum question infringes on basic human rights. Conservative groups, however, have gathered over 700,000 signatures in support of the vote.
Croatia, which has a population of 4.4 million, has taken steps to improve LGBT rights in recent years, but issues such as same-sex marriage remain highly divisive in the staunchly Catholic country.
In May, a Church-backed group called "In the Name of the Family" collected almost 700,000 signatures seeking a nationwide vote on the definition of marriage.
"We showed that we know, like David fighting against Goliath, how to direct our small slingstones in the same direction," the initiative's leader, Zeljka Markic, told her cheering supporters in their electoral headquarters late Sunday.
"This time for the protection of marriage, and next time for something else of the same importance," she added, without elaborating.
The vote's opponents denounced the referendum as discriminatory and warned it could pave the way for other conservative initiatives targeting minorities or on issues such as abortion.
'Sad and senseless'
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic labelled the referendum "sad and senseless" and voiced hope it was the last vote on such an issue.
Analysts say economic troubles in the country -- which has been hit by a long recession that has left many unemployed and frustrated -- has boosted radicalism of all sorts.
"Today homosexuals are on the agenda, tomorrow it will be those who have bicycles, then people with dogs, Jews, we know how it goes," Ilija Desnica, a man in his 60s who said he voted "no," told AFP.
Despite Sunday's result, attitudes towards gay rights have slowly become more liberal in Croatia.
When the country's first Gay Pride parade was held in Zagreb in 2002, dozens of participants were beaten up by extremists.
But gay rights marches are now staged regularly, though still under heavy security. The issue is also discussed more openly in the media and homosexuals are less fearful of "coming out".
In 2003 Croatia adopted a law recognising same-sex couples who have lived together for at least three years - although apart from official acknowledgement, the measure grants them few rights.
Sunday's vote was the first citizen-initiated referendum since Croatia's independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2013-12-01