Croatians have voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to ban marriage equality, backing the country’s Catholic Church and right wing parties on Sunday.
With over four-fifths of the votes counted, Croatia’s electoral commission stated that 65% of those votes answered, “yes” to the referendum question: “Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?” About 34% voted against.
The result means that Croatia’s constitution will be amended to ban marriage equality.
The vote has been a contentious issue in Croatia, one of the European Union’s (EU) newest member states.
Civil society, liberal politicians and rights groups said the referendum infringes on basic human rights.
The church-backed groups have gathered over 750,000 signatures in its support.
The former Yugoslav republic of 4.4 million, which became EU’s 28th member in July, has been taking steps to improve LGBT rights, but marriage equality remains a highly sensitive issue.
The referendum was called by a right wing Catholic group, In the Name of the Family, following Croatia’s centre-left government drafted a law for same-sex civil partnership.
Leaders of the Catholic Church’s urged their followers to vote “yes” in the referendum, in a country where 90% of the population are Roman Catholics.
“Marriage is the only union enabling procreation,” Croatian Cardinal Josip Bozanic stated in a recent message to followers.
“This is the key difference between a marriage and other unions.”
Hundreds of LGBT rights campaigners marched on Saturday in the capital Zagreb, urging voters to cast a “no” vote.
“We urge voters… to protect minority rights so that no-one in Croatia becomes a second-class citizen,” activist Sanja Juras told a crowd in Zagreb on Saturday.
Croatia’s center-left President Ivo Josipovic said he would vote against amending the constitution.
“We don’t need this kind of a referendum,” he said.
“Defining marriage between a man and a woman doesn’t belong to the constitution. A nation is judged by its attitude toward minorities.”
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic also commented saying that “this is the last referendum that gives a chance to the majority to strip a minority of its rights”.
The EU has not yet issued any official statement following the vote, but experts suggest that a response from Brussels will be soon forthcoming, against the result.