President of Georgia

Georgia may hold referendum over constitutionally defining marriage

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Photo: kyivpost.com

The Central Election Commission (CEC) submitted a request to the President of Georgia about conducting a referendum regarding the constitutional definition of a marriage, which would de facto ban same-sex marriage. The President has 30 days to decide whether or not to approve to have a referendum. The decision has to be co-signed by the Prime-Minister. 

On August 3, the Presidential Administration told Tabula that they do confirm receiving the documation from the CEC, however cannot provide any information given that President is in Rio, attending opening ceremony of the 2016 olympics. 

According to the CEC, the initiators of the referendum collected 224,000 supporting signatures, out of which 200,348 were valid. The initiative was launched by Sandro Bregadze (former Deputy Minister for Diaspora Affairs), Soso Manjavidze (former member of the Alliance of Patriots party), and Zviad Tomaradze (director of the Demographic Society XXI). According to the Georgian constitution, at least 200,000 signatures are required to hold a referendum.

The proposed question for the referendum is: "Do you agree or not to define civil marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating family."

In a conversation with Tabula, the press-speaker of the CEC, Ana Mikeladze, commented that the President has the authority to either announce the referendum and set a date, or to refuse to hold a referendum, and provide the rationale why.

Critics are afraid that, through this referendum, the Georgian Dream government is trying to either mobilize the conservative electorate to the polls and boost the pro-Russian turnout; and/or to demonize the opposition. The result would be to get more people to vote in their favor by tieing the referendum question with the election.

President Margvelashvili has previously commented on the issue, saying that it's an artificial process and that the Georgian Civil Code already defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The President said: "There is no need to define marriage in Georgia because it's already defined. 99% of the population thinks that same-sex marriage is unacceptable. Georgian legislation outlines this... Should we have this conversation when we are starving and are occupied?"

Sergo Ratiani, the executive secretary of the opposition United National Movement, said that the referendum is inspired by a Russian and anti-western narrative. He says the Georgian Dream tries to overshadow major problems such as the economic crisis, unemployment, and poverty through this referendum. On the other hand, Georgian Dream member and Vice-speaker of Parliament, Manana Kobakhidze, denied these claims that the government is trying to tie the referendum together with the election in order to win votes. She maintained that the issue is being discussed for a while and that the opposition should respect the request of 200,000 citizens who are demanding this vote on the definition of marriage and family.

The legal experts and constitutionalists have commented on the constitutionality of the referendum. According to Davit Zedelashvili, Georgian constitution does not allow any referendum that might lead to restriction of human rights. Zedelashvili furthermore pointed out that a referendun cannot be hold if it envisions passing or annuling a legislation. Legal expert, Besarion Bokhashili similarly said that the referendum contradicts 74th article of Georgian Constitution. 74th Article states following: "The referendum shall not be held with the view of adopting or repealing law, in terms of amnesty or pardon, ratification or denunciation of international treaties and agreements, as well as the issues restricting the basic constitutional rights and freedoms of individuals,". 

The director of the Human Rights Monitoring and Education Center (EMC), Vakhusti Menabde, pointed out that: "This is a tactic ahead of the elections, to accumulate votes on the grounds of hatred... This aids in the stigmatization of LGBT individuals and promotes discriminatory treatment towards them. Obviously, this is not acceptable and the President should not approve the referendum.”

According to the World Value Survey, Georgia is the third most homophobic country in the world after Jordan and Iran, with 92.6% of the population unhappy with the idea of having a gay or lesbian neighbor. Only 27% of the Georgian population believes that it is important or somewhat important to protect the rights of “sexual minorities.” The discussion is tied with Russian propaganda efforts. Pro-Russia forces label LGBT people as a Western import and fan the flames of homophobia, while presenting Russia as the guardian of "Orthodox Values.”

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