Romania moves closer to ruling out same-sex marriage

Romania's senate has overwhelmingly backed a citizens' initiative to change the definition of marriage in the constitution in a nationwide referendum, a move that could make it impossible to legalize same-sex unions in the future.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly back a citizen-led initiative

People taking part in Bucharest's Pride parade in June demanded more rights and acceptance for same-sex couples. Today, the government voted to move further away from ever making gay marriage legal. (Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press)

Romanian senators have approved a law that would pave the way for the constitution to be changed to explicitly state that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.

The vote came after the parliament's chamber of deputies overwhelmingly approved the same measure last year, a move that was slammed by LGBT and rights groups locally and internationally, as well as dozens of European parliament members.

The Coalition for Family civil groups, gathered three million signatures in 2016, seeking to hold a referendum to amend the constitutional wording to an union strictly between "a man and a woman," from the existing, gender neutral, "spouses."

Citizens to ultimately decide

A referendum could be held as early as Oct. 7, the ruling party has said. The government is expected to set a date in the coming days.

Same-sex marriage is legal, or about to be legal, in half of the European Union's 28 countries, with some others recognizing same-sex civil partnerships.

The Romanian initiative, which cleared the upper house of parliament in a 107-13 vote, has backing from the main Orthodox church and minority Roman Catholic and Greek-Catholic denominations in the socially conservative state of 20 million.

Under Romanian law, the constitution can be changed after a proposal by the president, the government, a quarter of all lawmakers or at least 500,000 citizens.

Parliament must endorse such requests, which must then be approved in a nationwide referendum to come into force.

Romania's civil code of rules for relations between citizens already bans same-sex civil partnerships.

In June, the European Court of Justice ruled that European Union states which have not legalized gay marriage must still offer same-sex spouses residency rights equal to those of heterosexual couples.

With files from The Associated Press