Croatia to hold referendum on gay marriage on Dec 1

Croatia to hold referendum on gay marriage on Dec 1

ZAGREB - Croatian lawmakers voted on Friday to hold a referendum on Dec 1 that would rule out same-sex marriage in the Roman Catholic country, despite strong objections from gay rights activists.

The referendum on whether to amend the country's constitution to define marriage as a "union between a woman and a man" was called after some 700,000 people signed a petition launched by a conservative group seeking such a nationwide vote.

The number of people who signed the petition was much higher than required by the law for calling a referendum.

A total of 104 MPs in the 151-seat assembly backed holding of the referendum compared with 13 who voted against. The others were absent or abstained.

Currently there is no definition of marriage in the Constitution of the European Union's newest member state.

Croatia does not allow same-sex marriages, but many conservatives are worried it could become possible after the centre-left government said it was preparing a law that would enable gay and lesbian couples to register as "life partners".

Mr Zeljko Reiner of the main conservative HDZ party stressed ahead of the parliamentary vote on Friday that "Croatia is a traditional society" and argued that such a consitutional clause was not discriminatory.

"It is simply the question of safety that something... which is a basis of the Croatian society does not change," he stressed in a reference to heterosexual families.

Gay rights activists have objected to putting the matter to a popular vote, saying it would be discriminatory. They are also asking the country's top court to review whether such a referendum would even be constitutional.

"This is undoubtedly a human rights issue and as such it cannot be put to a referendum," prominent gay rights activist Sanja Juras said.

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