An online petition was launched on August 4 calling on President Giorgi Margvelashvili not to give a go-ahead to a referendum on defining marriage as union of a man and a woman – something that is already specified in the Georgian legislation.
In late July an initiative group behind the referendum proposal presented to the Central Election Commission (CEC) signatures of more than 200,000 citizens, required for the referendum to move ahead. The group, among others, also includes Sandro Bregadze, who was a 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.
On July 30 the CEC validated authenticity of signatures and sent the petition to the President on August 1.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili has 30 days to decide whether to call the referendum.
If the President decides positively, his decree on holding the referendum will then require approval from Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, who is also chairman of the ruling GDDG party – some of the lawmakers from the ruling party have spoken in favor of such referendum.
The counter-petition, which gathered up to 700 signatories in the first four hours of its launch on August 4, reads that such referendum would “come in conflict with the Georgian Constitution, will hit national interests with long-lasting consequences, strengthen Russian, anti-Western propaganda, as well as pro-Russian forces and exacerbate the condition in respects of rights of the most vulnerable group.”
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“Calling this referendum simultaneously with the parliamentary elections [on October 8] creates serious risk of violence and further polarization of political environment. It is beyond any doubt that the authorities will use the referendum for attracting conservative and pro-Russian votes, which will have a serious impact on the elections and Georgia’s European integration prospects; therefore this referendum should not be called,” reads the petition to the President.
“We believe that pushing this issue ahead of elections and capitalizing on xenophobic and homophobic sentiments of a part of the society is an attempt to overshadow economic and political problems.”
“At the same time, this process completely falls within the Russian propaganda narrative, wherein the West is portrayed as ‘an imposer of depravity’ and ‘an enemy of national identity and orthodoxy’.”
“Calling this referendum, especially when not a single LGBT organization [in Georgia] puts the issue of equal marriage on its agenda, would be legitimization of all those legends and myths, which were invented by the Russian propaganda machine for the purpose of scaring Georgian society. We call on the Georgian President to obstruct this propaganda by the occupying force and not to take a devastating step, which would be a heavy blow to rule of law and human rights, as well as Georgian people’s will for unhindered continuation of the Euro-Atlantic integration process,” reads the petition.
It also says that the question of the proposed 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?” – is in itself “absurd”, because Georgia’s civil code in fact already specifies that marriage is a “voluntary union of a man and a woman.”
“As you have noted in one of your public remarks, the issue is already defined in the Georgian legislation and requires no further regulation,” the petition reads.
The President, who is now in Brazil to attend the opening of the Rio Olympic Games, has not spoken publicly about the issue since the CEC sent to him a petition calling for the referendum.
But in May, when the Parliament was debating GDDG ruling party’s proposal for a constitutional amendment, defining marriage as union of a man and a woman, the President criticized the proposal to be a non-issue and called it 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.
Because of lack of required quorum, the constitutional bill has not been put on vote.
PM Kvirikashvili did not address the issue of proposed referendum directly, but told journalists on August 4 that the GDDG would pass the bill to define marriage in the constitution in the next parliament to be elected in the October 8 elections.
“We have started this process in the [sitting] Parliament, and I am sure that we come into [next Parliament] with such a majority that we will definitely make this amendment to the constitution,” PM Kvirikashvili said.
Support of at least 113 MPs in 150-member Parliament is required for any constitutional amendment.
Speaking at a news conference on August 3, one of the initiators of the referendum bid, Sandro Bregadze, called on the President “to yield to people’s demand” for holding the referendum.
“We know he [President Margvelashvili] is under an incredible pressure from so called liberast forces to [reject the referendum],” Bregadze said using a term, which is a combination of liberal and pederast, a derogatory term used for homosexuals. “This pressure also comes from some foreign organizations and foreign diplomatic missions in Georgia.”
Bregadze is now with a political party, which was launched by MP Tamaz Mechiauri, who is also no stranger to making homophobic slurs and who quit the ruling GDDG party in late May after voicing anti-Western sentiments and criticizing government’s declared policy of NATO integration.