President Giorgi Margvelashvili says Georgia will not hold the referendum over the definition of marriage. According to the President referendum aids Moscow's legal arguments considering that it would exclude occupied territories.
Margvelashvili said: “I respect referendum, as it is an example of participatory democracy and I think that it gives politicians an opportunity to hear people’s voice. However, we should take into account the law on a referendum. It says that referendum must be held on the entire territory of the country. I, as the guarantee of country’s unity and national independence, am obliged to defend country’s sovereignty in the first place. In the times when 20% of our territories is occupied and when Russia has recognized occupied territories as independent states, it would give the occupant more legal argumentations.”
Earlier today, on August 9, the group proposing marriage referendum refused to meet with the president. President’s Parliamentary Secretary, spoke about the issue saying that: “the President was ready to meet with the initiative group, but they choose the language of confrontation and refused to meet with the President, which clearly demonstrates the political aims of this narrow-minded group”.
The civil society platform “No to Phobia” commenting on the issue today, saying that the proposed referendum on marriage is against the Constitution and that the platform strongly opposes it. The platform includes 12 non-governmental organisations, and called on the President of Georgia not to allow the referendum, saying it would cause an artificial tension between the principles of human rights, morals, and traditions.
On August 1, The Central Election Commission (CEC) submitted a request to the President of Georgia on conducting a referendum regarding the constitutional definition of a marriage, which would de facto ban same-sex marriage. 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 opposition and legal experts have commented on the issue. 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 also spoke against 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.”