SPURRED by a strong turnout at a pro-life rally last year, social conservatives are launching a petition to instil a definition of marriage as exclusive to one man and one woman into the constitution.
That push mirrors a plebiscite held in Croatia last year, as an action to further codify the definition of marriage moves forward in parliament as well. Two draft amendments to the constitution are currently at play among MPs. One was filed by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) leader Ján Figeľ, and signed by 40 opposition MPs. Just days after that, on February 28, the KDH submitted a similar provision along with the ruling Smer’s judicial reform package.
Despite these legislative moves, the Alliance for Family, which declares itself a non-partisan and non-religious organisation and which emerged during the preparations for the September 2013 March for Life, is moving forward with its petition plans.
The group claims that the parliamentary proposals do not fulfil all the goals that the Alliance set out in the manifesto emanating from the pro-life march.
Legacy of the March
The National March for Life took place in Košice on September 22, 2013, the same weekend as the gay pride parade in Bratislava, and recorded massive attendance by Slovak standards, with organisers claiming that 80,000 people took part. Though banners in the crowd clearly voiced opposition to abortion and euthanasia, they insisted it was not directed against anything but rather in support of the protection of life and family. The rally was organised by the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (KBS) and dozens of other organisations.
Marchers endorsed the Manifesto of the National March for Life 2013, in which they expressed three main beliefs: that the life of every person is priceless and should be unconditionally protected from conception to natural death, that family is based on the marriage of a man and a woman and should be protected as such, and that care for children is the right and responsibility of parents, as children have the right to parental protection, education and care.
The manifesto called on parliament and the government to create legislative proposals in support of their values, calling for the legal protection of marriage between men and women, “a unique and irreplaceable bond that respects the natural law recognisable by reason”. It also called on the government to create support mechanisms and economic and social conditions that would allow families to have children without worries, and to actively support institutions that provide help to families in need and pregnant women.
The Alliance for Family has begun collecting signatures for a petition to hold a referendum on these issues. In Slovakia, 350,000 signatures are needed to force a referendum.
“The currently submitted draft amendment of the constitution for the protection of the definition of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman is a good step, which, unfortunately, does not solve the more immediate threats to the family,” Peter Kremský of the Alliance said at a March 6 press conference. In most countries that “have already lost their fight for the exceptionality of marriage”, as Kremský put it, things moved forward gradually, from introducing registered partnerships through increasing the rights of same-sex couples to finally granting these couples the right to adopt children.
The Alliance claim it is necessary for Slovakia to protect the interests of children by stressing their right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother, and by preventing the “inappropriate sexual education in schools”.
The referendum that the Alliance’s petition promotes should include five questions that would deal with the protection of marriage, the best interest of a child in the adoption process – that is to grow up in a family with a father and a mother, the protection of the exceptionality of marriage so that other forms of cohabitation are not elevated to its level; and the protection of children from inappropriate education in schools, according to the Alliance’s press release.
The KBS, the main organisers of the pro-life march, supports the initiative, but they are still waiting to see the final questions asked in the referendum, KBS spokesman Jozef Kováčik told the SITA newswire.
Unnecessary, says KDH
The initiative has divided politicians. While the KDH, which has long advocated definitions of marriage and stands behind the respective legislative initiatives, maintains there is no need for a plebiscite, others have expressed support.
KDH Deputy Chairman Július Brocka called the initiative unnecessary, since two proposals for amending the constitution are already in parliament.
“In such case a referendum is a waste of money and energy,” Brocka told SITA. Smer and the KDH together have enough votes to pass a constitutional proposal, he added.
Meanwhile, the NOVA movement, which was established by prominent KDH defectors led by Daniel Lipšic and later joined by liberals who left the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, welcomed the initiative, arguing that they have always been in favour of referenda on value-oriented issues.
To make sure that the validity of the referendum will not be threatened by a possible low turnout, NOVA suggests including the referendum in the next parliamentary election, scheduled for 2016.
“Cultural and ethical questions should not be the subject of a backstage political deal, as we have witnessed currently in the case of Smer and the KDH,” NOVA wrote. They suggest that by the time the draft amendment makes it to its second parliamentary reading in April, the political situation in Slovakia will have changed, thus complicating the process.
Meanwhile, Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) MP Richard Vašečka said he was sorry that the Alliance did not accept his movement’s proposal to join the referendum that OĽaNO is preparing, which should embrace many aspects of life in Slovakia, including family and its legal protection.
“We have called on all the organisations and individuals to unite our forces for one in-depth and successful referendum,” he said, as quoted by SITA. “Unfortunately, Alliance for Family decided to go its own way. Despite that, we will support their efforts.”