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President sets date for ‘family’ referendum

PRESIDENT Andrej Kiska has set February 7 as the date for the referendum on the “protection of family”, after the Constitutional Court (CC) approved three out of four referendum questions in October.

PRESIDENT Andrej Kiska has set February 7 as the date for the referendum on the “protection of family”, after the Constitutional Court (CC) approved three out of four referendum questions in October.

Despite the CC’s ruling, Kiska questioned their constitutionality and human rights NGOs call on people to not participate. The Family Alliance (AZR) which initiated the referendum expects that it will, at least, raise a discussion about this issue.

“After examining the reasoning of the Constitutional Court, I observe that my personal doubts were not dispelled as far as the other questions go, either,” Kiska said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Alternative opinions from the Constitutional Court’s judges were enclosed in the Constitutional Court’s ruling and reasoning. As president, however, I’m required to honour the Constitutional Court’s ruling.”

The referendum, which should cost more than €6.3 million to run, will seek people’s answers to three questions. These concern the use of the word “marriage” only when referring to the union of a man and a woman, a question on preventing same-sex couples from adopting children, and whether or not parents should be allowed to decide if their children should attend classes dealing with sex education and euthanasia.

The CC ruled that it was unconstitutional to ask voters whether they agree that no other cohabitation of persons other than marriage should be granted particular protection, rights and duties that the legislative norm only grants to marriages and to spouses. These rights include mainly the acknowledgement, registration or recording as a life community in front of a public authority and the possibility to adopt a child by the spouse of a parent.

The AZR praised Kiska’s decision for setting a referendum date. The results of a referendum are valid if more than 50 percent of registered voters participate. If the majority of voters agree with the questions, they are approved and the results have the power of law. AZR expects a wide public debate about the issue.

“We are happy and of course we hope that the referendum will be successful,” said AZR spokesman Anton Chromík, as quoted by the public service Slovak Radio. “The success is simply the fact that the family [issue] is being discussed and family has finally made it to the centre [of interest].”

Romana Schlesinger of the Queer Leaders Forum NGO supporting LGBTI rights, who joined the Freedom and Solidarity Party (SaS) in September, considers the referendum a dangerous precedent and said it opens a “Pandora’s box” whereby the majority population makes decisions on behalf of minorities.

“The fact that the questions are related to human rights as to what is right for family just illustrates the absurdity of the whole situation,” Schlesinger told the SITA newswire. “We will appeal to people to not participate in the referendum. And [we will do so] out of one principal reason: there should be no voting about human rights.”

Tolerant campaign

According to Kiska, February 7 is the only possible date for the referendum, as families are not expected to travel to or from their spring holidays on that particular day. He added that he would consult the date with the Interior Ministry and has received assurances that state authorities are able to do all the necessary prep work, according to TASR.

“It is a good date and we are happy that such a date was announced,” Chromík said, as quoted by TASR.

He added that AZR’s campaign will be funded by voluntary contributions and will be run with the help of volunteers. AZR will reveal the exact costs of the campaign after the referendum takes place.

The Initiative Inakosť (Otherness) supporting rights of LGBTI people will not prepare a big campaign, and instead plans to inform the public via the internet that the referendum is pointless and could even harm some people, according to Jana Jablonická-Zezulová from Inakosť. Other LGBTI rights advocates also plan to join Inakosť activities, Slovak Radio reported.

In his statement Kiska said that he hopes that the upcoming discussion before the referendum and campaign will be tolerant on both sides, fair and full of empathy.

To vote or not to vote?

On November 12, Kiska revealed how he will vote in the referendum saying that as a conservative person, he will support the first two questions referring to the definition of marriage and rights of adoption for same sex couples. He is, however, against the question regarding sexual education at schools.

“There are questions to which I have a very clear attitude,” Kiska said, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “I am a conservative person who understands what minorities or other groups expect.”

Though he agrees that many things at school do not work as they should and he understands the objections to what is being taught, Kiska said that “it is necessary that schools offer basic sexual education”, as reported by SITA.

Prime Minster Robert Fico refused to advise people how to vote or to say his personal opinion, but he recommended citizens participate.

“We in Smer have always considered referenda as the highest form of direct democracy,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA. “We will recommend voters and Smer’s sympathisers use this right and participate in the referendum and express their opinion.”

He also said this issue is not a priority for him and that the government is focusing rather on economic issues.

“I don’t think that this is an issue which should burden Slovakia today,” Fico said, as quoted by SITA.

The Slovak Bishops Conference (KBS) promised to support the AZR’s campaign, claiming that the referendum questions are related to its agenda. It has not, however, promised financial support. The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECAV) stated that it will recommend to all its believers that they participate and that they agree with all three questions, according to Slovak Radio.

On the other hand, Peter Weisenbacher of the Human Rights Institute (IĽP) claimed that the referendum is pointless and those €6 million could be spent in a better way.

“Since I have been dealing with the questions of spreading poverty in my work more and more often,” Weisenbacher told SITA, “I must ask how many socially deprived families with multiple children could be helped with that money from state’s budget.”

Raising more questions

Even as the CC approved three of the four referendum questions, some human rights experts point out that parliamentarians should implement the response via legislation. Such laws would bring discrimination against sexual minorities and they will probably subsequently go to the Slovak courts and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), according to Pravda daily.

If legislation copies the referendum, questions their constitutionality could occur, according to Constitutional lawyer Peter Kresák.

“It would depend on which form the answers will be implemented in the legislation,” Kresák told Pravda.

The implementation of the ban on adoption of children by homosexual couples could be difficult, according to Marián Giba who is also a constitutional lawyer.

“If there isn’t some sort of legal definition of same-sex persons living together,” Giba said, as quoted by Pravda, “it is technically difficult to imagine how the wording of the legislation, which would restrict couples from adopting children, could be formulated.”

In case the referendum is successful, Inakosť is prepared to fight the results.

“We would consider all legal possibilities available to us in the range of the current Constitution,” Inakosť head Martin Macko told the Pravda. “If this situation occurs, we will consider everything.”

The three referendum questions are:

1. Do you agree that no other cohabitation of persons other than a bond between one man and one woman can be called marriage?
2. Do you agree that same-sex couples or groups shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children and subsequently raise them?
3. Do you agree that schools cannot require children to participate in education pertaining to sexual behaviour or euthanasia if their parents or the children themselves do not agree with the content of the education?

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