Central Election Commission (CEC) gave the go-ahead on Sunday to the launch of procedures, which if completed, will lead to holding of a referendum on defining marriage as union of a man and a woman – something that is already specified in the Georgian legislation.
CEC’s decision means that an initiative group behind the referendum proposal now has 3 months to collect at least 200,000 signatures of citizens required for the referendum to be called.
CEC will then have one month to check signatures and if approved it will be up to President Giorgi Margvelashvili to decide within a month whether to hold the referendum. If the President decides positively, his decree on holding the referendum will then require approval, or as it is formally called “countersignature”, from Prime Minister.
Among the members of the initiative group behind the referendum proposal is Sandro Bregadze, who was deputy state minister for diaspora issues before resigning in February, 2016; the rights groups had been calling for his dismissal while he was holding the post because of his homophobic remarks. Bregadze is now with a new political party, which is being set up by MP Tamaz Mechiauri, who is also no stranger to making homophobic slurs and who has quit the ruling GDDG party in late May after voicing anti-Western sentiments and criticizing government’s declared policy of NATO integration.
Bregadze told journalists on June 12 that the initiative group wants the referendum to be held simultaneously with the parliamentary elections on October 8.
The proposed question for a possible referendum – “Do you agree that civil marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of starting a family?” – does not specify how the issue can be further “defined” as Georgia’s civil code in fact already specifies that marriage is a “voluntary union of a man and a woman”, effectively banning same-sex marriage.
Initially the same initiative group was proposing different wording of the question; it was proposing asking voters if they wanted the marriage to be defined as union of a man and a woman in the Constitution.
The proposal, however, was turned down by the Central Election Commission in May, 2016 as the Georgian legislation bans holding of a referendum on an issue that would obligate the Parliament to change the Constitution.
On May 27 Parliament discussed with its first reading a draft of constitutional amendment, proposed by the ruling GDDG party, defining marriage as union of a man and a woman.
But because of lack of required quorum, it 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 due to the Kortskheli violent incident.
During the discussion of the constitutional bill on May 27, lawmakers from the GDDG ruling party did not rule out initiating a referendum on the issue if the Parliament fails to adopt the proposed constitutional amendment.
President Margvelashvili said in May that the constitutional bill to define marriage as union of a man and a woman “is not an issue” at all in Georgia and an attempt “to stir a storm in a teacup”; he also said that the proposal was floated for the purpose of diverting public attention from real problems in the country.