Even with the endorsement of Pope Francis, a referendum to ban same-gender marriage and adoption by lesbian and gay couple in the heavily Catholic European nation of Slovakia failed due to extremely low voter turnout.
At least 50% of the electorate would have had to participate in the referendum, but only 21.4% showed up at the polls, according to Associated Press news story on LGBTQNation.com.
The Catholic bishops in Slovakia supported the referendum’s goals, and last week at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged a group of Slovakian pilgrims “to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.” This statement was his most direct involvement in a national marriage equality debate. In addition to the questions about marriage and adoption, the referendum also contained a question about allowing parents to remove their children from sex education classes in schools.
Because the referendum was dependent on a 50% turnout for it to be valid, those who opposed the anti-LGBT measures encouraged voters to refrain from voting. That strategy seems to have worked. Deutsche Welle reported on the results:
“Ahead of Saturday’s vote, liberals gay rights activists and various media outlets had called on the nation’s electorate to boycott the referendum – a simple tactic which proved to be a success.
” ‘The result shows that a campaign full of prejudice … failed to mobilize people, which is very good news for Slovakia,’ activist Lucia Plavakova told Reuters news agency.”
Those who did turn out to vote overwhelmingly endorsed the ban on marriage equality (95%), adoption (92%), and allowing opting out of sex education (90%). Slovakia already has a ban on same-gender marriage, civil unions, and adoption. The referendum was meant to strengthen the bans legally.
One LGBT activist was hopeful following the vote, according to the Associated Press story:
“Romana Schlesinger, a LGBT activist said, she hoped the government will now work to make it possible for same-sex couples to live in registered partnership ‘because all our partnerships, our families are living without legal recognition or protection.’ “
More than 80% of Slovaks are Christian, and of these, most are Catholic. Billboards (see photo above) picturing the pope giving a thumbs-up sign, with slogans supporting the referendum, appeared across the nation, but they seem to have been ineffective. LGBTQNation.com offered the following explanatory caption for the photo above:
“A billboard depicting Pope Francis with his thumb up located at Klokocina district in Nitra, Slovakia, Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015, invites voters to the Slovak national referendum on the protection of the traditional family scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7. The Billboard slogans read (in clock-wise direction from left upper corner: ‘Come to referendum 7.2.2015,’ ‘Vote 3xYES’ and ‘ “Slovakia fights brave today for the protection of the traditional family” (as a quotation) – Pope Francis, Jan. 22, 2015, in Rome.’ “
Yet, the pope’s role seemed to have little influence on the way that they voted. Despite his charismatic popularity among Catholics worldwide, it seems that Pope Francis’ political message against marriage equality is not as powerful as the power of people who want to respect human dignity, rights, and equality.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry