Parliament discussed on May 27 with its first reading a draft of constitutional amendment defining marriage as union of a man and a woman.
It, however, remains unclear when, or if the bill will be put on vote.
Any constitutional amendment requires support of at least 113 MPs and a vote cannot be held unless this number of minimum required lawmakers is present in the chamber.
Lawmakers from UNM, the largest opposition group in the legislative body, are currently boycotting parliamentary sittings; they walked out of the Parliament chamber on May 25, saying they will not be attending sessions unless all the perpetrators and masterminds of the May 22 violence in the village of Kortskheli are held accountable.
Any constitutional amendment has to be passed with three readings, which cannot be held during the one plenary session cycle – if the amendment is approved with first and second hearings during a spring session of the parliament, the final vote should be held during autumn session, no earlier than three months from the first two votes.
Lawmakers from the GDDG ruling party, as well as MPs from some of its partner parties did not rule out initiating holding of a referendum on the issue if the Parliament fails to adopt the proposed constitutional amendment.
Critics of the proposal say that it is not an issue at all in Georgia and the bill was put forth by the ruling party for scoring political points ahead of parliamentary elections.
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Rights groups say the initiative is a “populist” move ahead of elections, which is further marginalizing LGBT community and causing further rise in homophobic sentiments in the country.
The rights groups have reported at least five cases of attacks with alleged homophobic motives since late April; in one of those cases two young men were stabbed and wounded on May 21.
Proposal to introduce the constitutional amendment was first voiced by then PM Irakli Garibashvili in March 2014 and refloated by current PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili in early March, 2016. The constitutional amendment was initiated by 80 lawmakers – most of them MPs from the GD parliamentary majority group, as well 7 out of the Free Democrats opposition party’s 8 lawmakers. The Republican Party, a member of the GD ruling coalition, “distanced” itself from the process of initiating of the proposal, but two of its lawmakers put signatures on initiation of the bill.
MP Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative Party, part of the GD majority group in parliament, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said during the debates on May 27 that the issue requires to be “clarified” in the constitution and the marriage clearly defined as union between a man and a woman.
“It is the right of children to have male fathers and female mothers – that’s the right position,” MP Dzidziguri said.
“We should put everything into place and this amendment gives the answer,” he added.
Article 36 of the Georgian constitution currently reads: “Marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses.”
Proposal to amend the constitution offers the following wording: “Marriage, which is a voluntary union of a woman and a man with the purpose of creating a family, shall be based on equal rights of spouses.”
Georgia’s civil code already specifies that marriage is a “voluntary union of man and woman”, effectively banning same-sex marriage.
Speaking in support of the bill, GDDG MP Nukri Kantaria said that homosexuality “is not a disease and problem of only the current century.”
He also said that such constitutional amendment will help to counter a false narrative as if Europe is imposing same-sex marriage on Georgia.
Lawmakers from the Free Democrats party, who support the bill, also cite this very argument as one of the reasons behind backing the proposal, saying that defining marriage in the constitution will deprive pro-Russian forces of their false argument as if the EU tries to impose same-sex marriage on Georgia.
All but two MPs from ten-member faction of Republican Party in the Parliament, which formally remains within the majority group, distanced themselves from initiating the bill from the very beginning, arguing that such constitutional amendment was on the one hand pointless because it was not an issue in Georgia and on the other hand it would have been impossible to adopt it in the sitting Parliament.
Speaking during debates on May 27, Republican MP Davit Berdzenishvili said that his party still thinks that initiating of the bill was pointless as it is doomed to fail because there are not 113 MPs in the chamber to even put the issue on the vote.
He said that making this “sensitive” issue part of election campaign may fuel tensions and added it would be “wrong” if parties use it for scoring political points.
“I can understand an argument that we should deprive pro-Russian forces pretext for their propaganda. But the Parliament is failing to adopt this amendment. Let’s not make this topic high on the agenda in the election campaign. It will make situation tense,” MP Davit Berdzenishvili said.
MP Tamar Kordzaia of the Republican Party said the Parliament was wasting time by discussing this “completely needless” bill.
“What is now happening in the Parliament is loafing,” she said, adding that the rhetoric applied in this discussion “is especially unacceptable”.
“I have an impression that initiators of this bill will then also introduce a legislative proposal to define how many times a husband and a wife should have sex per month,” she added.