Short history of the Romanian anti-gay referendum

The conservative anti-gay movement in Romania (Coalition for Family, CpF), who presses for a referendum against gay marriage and is today fully embraced by the Social Democrats, the ruling party, has an interesting history. It started not as anti-gay, but anti-abortion movement.

It was in 2012. A bunch of Lib-Dems (president Băsescu’s party) from Transylvania, led by the mayor of Arad, Gheorghe Falcă, introduced an anti-abortion draft in the Parliament: a soft version based on mandatory counseling and “cooling-off” period (see title picture; full text here). Whether they were true believers, or just politicians trying to boost Lib-Dems popularity in a difficult electoral year, after the party had seen the country through several years of crisis and austerity, it is hard to say. Probably, a little bit of both.

Pro-Vita association and other current members of CpF rallied in support, and so did a small but energetic group of American evangelical christians (“neo-protestants” as we call them), some of Romanian origin and active in various part of the country. Eventually so did the Orthodox Church. Falcă launched a book in a tram depot in Bucharest (The Living Society) which sounded like a christian conservative manifesto.

However the neo-protestants, with their better PR management and lobbying experience, realized that fighting abortion may be an uphill struggle in Romania, given the recent history: it was banned by the communists in the ‘70s and ‘80s (for an illustration of the grotesque traumas caused by the measure, see the Palm d’Or movie by Cristi Mungiu, “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days). So they turned the cannon against LGBTs, a softer and more promising target.

The Romanian Orthodox Church (BOR) toed the new line, although, if anything, the high incidence of abortions is the real problem in Romania, not the gay marriage, a non-issue: it is not possible under the current Civil Code anyway. By contrast, Romania has the highest rate of abortions in Europe, according to WHO: a staggering 480 to 1.000 births, which is twice the continental average. Practical policy, conservative or otherwise, was abandoned in favor of pure symbolism.

With its enormous critical mass, BOR helped the CpF movement collect an impressive 3 million signatures to call for a referendum to amend the Constitution and ban gay marriage forever (and not just for the time being, as it is under the current laws). Orthodox televangelists sprang up, in the mold of US revivalist lay preachers. Militant anti-Western monks doubling as writers gained a huge followership – and somehow managed to pass as respectable even in secular France, where they were translated and invited to bookfairs (though not with the conservative religious manifestoes which made their name back home).

A certain Russian influence was suspected all along, especially among the church hierachy in North-Eastern dioceses, but such claims have never been substantiated. Most likely such involvement was not needed in this case; a visible Russian connection would even have been counterproductive with ordinary Romanians.

The Social Democrats, in reality a pro-clerical, nationalist and traditionalist party relying on rural votes, immediately joined the bandwagon, not to be outflanked by the Liberals (PNL), with a lot of young and energetic neo-protestants in their branches in Transylvania. The rest is history. The referendum will come.

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