Church-backed referendum demanding nationwide ban on same-sex marriages
Sunday 1 December 2013 - 15:33 by a Staff Reporter
A petition backing an anti-gay marriage referendum garnered over 700,000 signatures
Croatians will be casting their votes in a controversial referendum that could ban same-sex marriage in the newest EU member state.
The referendum will decide whether or not to amend the country's constitution to define marriage as a "union between a man and a woman", as at present, the constitution of Croatia does not define marriage.
Currently, Croatia recognises unregistered cohabitations for same-sex couples but with very limited rights. The government, however, is expected to implement the Life Partnership Act, which will provide same-sex couples with most rights and responsibilities to those of a marriage.
The bill is set to be tabled in parliament in December, has divided Croatia with the predominantly Roman Catholic members calling for the ban while gay rights supporters backing the new parliamentary act.
A petition backing a nationwide ban on gay marriage drawn by the Church-backed 'In the Name of the Family' citizens' group has garnered over 700,000 signatures demanding a nationwide vote on gay marriage.
The referendum will ask the question: "Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?" If approved, Croatia's constitution will be amended to ban gay marriages.
The issue has sparked mass protests with hundreds of a gay rights supporters marching through the capital, Zagreb, in protest at the vote. A rift has been created within the country, dividing the country's residents. This has been confirmed by an opinion poll for state broadcaster HRT that suggested that 59% of Croatians would vote "yes" in Sunday's vote, with 31% against.
The vote has also received support from 104 members of Croatia's 151-seat parliament while the government; human rights groups and prominent public figures have all spoken out against the referendum.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic argued that the referendum threatened same-sex couples right to happiness and choice, but leaders of the opposition HDZ party are behind the referendum.
Protesters marched through the city's centres carrying signs and unfurled a large rainbow flag as they reached parliament.
"We urge voters... to protect minority rights so that no-one in Croatia becomes a second-class citizen," activist Sanja Juras told a crowd in Zagreb on Saturday.
According to the country's law, Sunday's referendum will not require a majority voter turnout for the result to be official.