Slovenia introduces marriage equality
After two lost referendums on LGBTQ rights, Slovenia's Constitutional Court ruled that a ban on same-sex couples marrying and adopting was unconstitutional, forcing a change in the law. But opposition is growing.
Teja and Nusa are two Slovenian women who love hill-walking, skiing, snowboarding, cycling and above all travelling the world.
They celebrated their wedding in 2020. There were no problems organizing the ceremony, and they didn't encounter any prejudice because they were a same-sex couple. In reality, however, it was not an "official" marriage — although Teja and Nusa certainly see it that way. Officially, they concluded a civil union, the only option open to them in Slovenia at the time. Since then, however, things have changed dramatically in this small Balkan country.
In early July 2022, Slovenia's Constitutional Court issued a ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, making it the first former communist state in Europe to do so. The court said that the ban on gay couples marrying was discriminatory against same-sex couples and, therefore, unconstitutional. It gave the National Assembly, the lower chamber of the Slovenian parliament, six months to amend the Slovenian Family Code accordingly.
Since the court's ruling, the first same-sex couples started to marry legally. But although Teja and Nusa now have the right to turn their civil union into a legally recognized marriage, they still haven't decided whether they will or not; after all, they already consider themselves married.
Parliament approves amended Family Code
The Slovenian government led by PM Robert Golob of the liberal-green Freedom Movement promptly drafted an amendment to the Family Code and put it to a vote in the National Assembly in early October. The amendment was passed by 48 MPs, with 29 voting against and one abstaining.
But opponents of LGBTQ rights in Slovenia quickly began collecting signatures for a referendum on the topic.
Slovenians have twice voted against LGBTQ rights
Those calling for a referendum feel confident that the electorate would reject marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. In fact, this has already happened twice in the past decade.
In 2012, for example, an amendment to the Family Code regarding LGBTQ rightswas rejected by 55% of the voters in a referendum with a voter turnout of just 30.1%. Another referendum on same-sex marriages was held in 2015 and was again rejected by 64% of voters. This time, turnout was marginally higher at 36%.
New referendum unlikely
Despite opposition to the Family Code amendment, Barbara Rajgelj, professor of law at the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Ljubljana, is certain that there will be no referendum.
"Because of Article 90 of the Slovenian constitution, which clearly states that there cannot be a referendum on acts that eliminate something unconstitutional in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms or some other unconstitutionality. And that is the case here," Rajgelj told DW.
Open violence against the LGBTQ community
Barbara Rajgelj is no stranger to the subject of LGBTQ rights. A longtime human rights activist, she established Cafe Open, one of the first LGBTQ-friendly places in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, in 2008.
Despite its popularity within the LGBTQ community, Cafe Open faced aggressive opposition. "Some men from the neighborhood were constantly threatening us. Once we had an event and one guy put a gun on the bar and start to yell and threaten us," Rajgelj recalled.
On another occasion, activist Mitja Blazic was badly beaten when eight men attacked the cafe with torches and stones. After that, Cafe Open was given police protection.
Campaigning for gay rights
Cafe Open later became an important meeting place for gay rights campaigners in the run-up to the first referendum on the Family Code in 2012.
"As a lawyer, I always emphasize that we live in a constitutional democracy: The power belongs to the people, but it is limited by the constitutional order," said Rajgelj. "Just like state institutions — from the parliament to the government and the courts — the will of the people is also limited by the constitution."
'The political path was a utopia'
Barbara Rajgelj was part of the campaign defending LGBTQ rights in the referendums in 2012 and 2015. The biggest opponent of gay rights on both occasions was a movement called "Children Are At Stake."
"Despite the reference to children's rights, the anti-LGBTQI+ movement is not interested in the best interests of the child. It's more a political agenda that is global and appears under the notion of 'natural order' — in which, of course, there is nothing natural; its main purpose is the preservation of the patriarchy," said Rajgelj.
"After two referendums, which were full of deception and fear mongering, it was obvious that the political path was a utopia, and the only possible way to achieve equal rights was the procedure before the courts."
'A commitment to truth'
Rajgelj has no illusions what the outcome of a referendum would be. "We would lose the Family Code in the referendum a hundred times over. Our strategy has always been a commitment to truth and opposition to every incitement to hatred," she said.
With the adoption of its amended Family Code, Slovenia has become one of the more progressive member states of the European Union in terms of LGBTQ rights.
Nevertheless, Barbara Rajgelj fears that the anti-gender movement is growing in Eastern Europe and warns that democracies in western Europe are not safe from this movement either.
Meanwhile, Teja and Nusa think that Slovenian society is opening up more and more, despite some deep-rooted social reservations. They feel that Slovenia's new Family Code provides hope and is a promise of a more equal future for all Slovenian citizens.
Edited by: Rüdiger Rossig and Aingeal Flanagan