Sometimes Even Most Basic Principles Need Voters’ Confirmation. This Is One Of Those Times.

The international media have started showing some interest in Sunday’s vote as well. Politico.eu has a decent summary of events so far, for example. But with five days remaining to Sunday’s referendum vote on same-sex marriage, the one thing that has been noticeably lacking in the public debate are polls. While that will likely change in the days ahead, it left both YES and NO campaigns in the dark in terms of gauging their reach and fine-tuning their approach. Now, the rumor-mill has it that some in-house polling was indeed done and that the results suggest a slight edge for the NO campaign, but given the lack of (financial) resources both campaigns are struggling with, these things need to be taken with a grain of salt, although it would be wrong to disregard them completely.

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pengovsky already cast his vote

Having said that, the campaign this time around is so crude that public opinion polls would probably not do much difference. The NO campaign especially opted for an all-hands-on-deck approach, enlisting the support of whatever grass-roots and Astroturf support it could muster, ranging from crackpots talking about hormone disruptors to suspiciously similar looking associations and groups all the way to the Catholic Church and the right-wing political parties, both within and without the parliament.

Lies, damn lies and the NO campaign

And while the YES campaign enlisted support from non-parliamentary and parliamentary parties, including the ruling coalition, it is trying to keep the message simple and clear: the issue here is equal right to marry and little else. And while they have been fairly consistent in this approach (post-debate mockery of the NO side over the weekend notwithstanding), the other side have resorted to fearmongering, intimidation, bad grammar and abuse of legal procedures, all in the name of the cause.

Namely, the day after the debate on public TV which left many-a-viewer in a state of shock and disbelief (yes, there was actually a guy in the NO camp talking about hormone disruptors and yes, pengovsky knows this guy personally), the very next day there was a hearing in the parliamentary committee on human rights on the issue. Normally, such a hearing would be held during legislative procedure, but since the committee is chaired by SDS’ very own Eva Irgl, it was clear from the outset that the sole aim of the enterprise was to give the NO camp a platform to speak from. Especially since Slovene media still feel obliged to report just about every antic the elected representatives of the people think of. Sure, the YES campaign were given the right to counter the claims of the NO campaign, but it was more than obvious who were the protagonists in this particular farce.

Intimidation, fearmongering and bad grammar

Were that not enough (and apparently it isn’t), private individuals who let the world around them know they’re in favour of equal right to marriage, are being bullied and intimidated by those opposing the measure. Case in point being Maruša Žabkar, a young entrepreneur from the town of Krško, who according to her own account,  found a hand-delivered unsigned letter on her doorstep on Monday morning, full of accusations, homophobic slurs and bad grammar, denouncing her and (among other things) accusing of destroying the nation by supporting equal rights. Go figure.

https://twitter.com/russhie/status/676323137399705600

Still, the award for the most concentrated pile of bullshit goes to the Roman Catholic Church which provided a compendium of virtually every bigoted conspiracy theory you can find on the internets, some of which would make even the right wing of the Republican Party cringe. A sample, for your reading, well, pleasure.

The law allows for adoptions by same-sex couples. Do you really wish your child to be adopted by two homosexuals, should anything happen to you?

The law does not “allow” for same-sex adoption, as these are already legal in case of one partner being the biological parent or if the adoption took place in a foreign country (e.g. the USA). Should a child, bob forbid, lose both parents while underage, Slovenian legislation (as everywhere in the world, I imagine) provides for a custodian to be named, usually the next of kin. Usually, grandparents or uncles and aunts. And even if there is no next of kin and the orphaned child would indeed be up for adoption, the social services would act in the best interest of the child. This excludes any possibility of same-sex couples being somehow privileged in adoption procedures. Doubly so given the fact that there are way more prospective adopters in Slovenia than there are possible adoptive children. And if you’re still not convinced, there is a provision for children over 10 years of age to give their consent for adoption into a new family.

The law brings changes to curriculum. Do you wish for your children to learn that they can pick their own gender and that they should experiment with their gender and sexual orientation?

Wait, what? Not only does the law not say a word about teaching curricla, the “school-meddling” argument has been thoroughly refuted (link in Slovenian). But on the whole, pengovsky should point out that keeping your children from learning stuff (including on sexual orientation) only creates frustrated and socially inhibited individuals. Which is a fairly good description of the vast majority of the NO campaign.

The law kills freedom of speech. Do you wish to lose your job saying it’s better for a child to have a mother and a father than two people of same sex?

Pengovsky has yet to see a law that would repudiate an article of the constitution. Obviously, nothing of the sort would happen.

And so on, ad nauseam. A good run-down of absurdity of these “arguments” is available here.

One of those times

And if none of the arguments of the NO campaign hold water, the only question is, why vote YES? Simple: because all men (and women) are created equal and people who want to be together should be able to do so in a way that makes them the most comfortable. By allowing same-sex weddings, no one is disenfranchised, only slightly more people get to get hitched.

This might seem self-explanatory especially to young voters, but sadly it is not. Which is why Sunday’s vote is so terribly important. Sometimes, even the most basic principles of a modern society need to be confirmed by a popular vote.

This is one of those times.

 

 

Call Me A Referendum

Funny thing, democracy. Apparently it’s OK to have a referendum on gay marriage but not OK to have a referendum on policing powers for the military. This, at least, will be the final take-away of deliberations of the Constitutional Court on recent referendum issues. Namely, after having OK’d a disputed referendum on the new marriage legislation, the court is poised to nix the referendum on increased powers for the military, further cementing its appearance as a senior citizen’s club trash-talking the issues of the day without caring either for the effect this has on the society as a whole or on the legal system in particular.

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Graphics by @mapixel

Now, it should be said that neither of the outcomes is at all surprising. Not with this particular composition of the court, that is. But the problem is the inconsistency that stems from that. Especially since this exact same court a couple of years ago came up with a “human dignity” benchmark when deliberating on whether to repeal a city ordinance naming a street in Ljubljana after Marshal Tito. But despite the fact that the court bent over backwards in coming up with at least a semi-coherent  definition of human dignity as a legal and consitutional concept, it was never ever applied again. Question is, why?

Random Senior Citizens’ Club

The short and the long of it is that the judges are acting more and more like nine randomly selected, rather well-off senior(ish) citizens, who – by the very nature of things – tend to lean conservative (as in “preserving status quo”) and more often than not decide from their particular view-point rather than from an eagle-eyed view of an ever-evolving democracy they were mandated with.

To put it crudely, you might as well go to a posh restaurant in downtown Ljubljana, randomly pick  nine individuals aged 50+ and you’ve an even chance of coming up with similar decisions. The only difference being that the judges are able to dot the i’s and cross the t’s as far as legalese is concerned. But in substance, there would be little discernible difference.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the referendum on the amended law on family and marriage, which allows for same-sex marriage by simply redefining marriage as being “between two people” and not anymore “between a man and a woman” was allowed, while the referendum on army having jurisdiction over civilians will in all likelihood be denied. It’s how a substantial number of Slovenians close to retirement age, when unchallenged, think about these issues.

The thing is, that the Constitutional Court is not “a substantial part of Slovenians close to retirement age” but rather the (pen)ultimate guardian of the republic, founded on civilian control over the military and equality for all.  But at this particular moment, that’s the way the cookie crumbles and there’s little we can do about it.

Really? Not exactly.

The GOP, Slovenian edition

While the referendum on same-sex marriage will be held on 20 December, the result is by no means a given, even though a much more comprehensive piece of legislation which included same-sex weddings was voted down three years ago. In fact, despite the vote being only two weeks away, there has been, until this weekend, an eerie quiet on the ground, with sporadic fighting going on only within the social media bubble. While no-one expected this to last, it does seem to suggest that outside the campaign proper, which is bound to pick up in the coming hours and days, there is little new to be said on the issue.

That, of course, does not mean that both YES and NO campaign are preaching solely to the choir. According to a Delo poll, the voters are split down the middle with 40 % being in favour and 41 % opposed to the legislation, which means there’s a roughly 20 % of the electorate available to swing the vote either way. And in this, the opponents of equal rights enjoy a huge advantage, as they don’t have to present actual fact, they only have to make people afraid. Of whatever. In fact, you could do worse than to draw a comparison between the NO campaign and the current GOP primaries in the US of A. You can totally see The Donald, Cruz and Rubio as being at the forefront of the Slovenian opposition to same-sex weddings. They’d fit like a glove.

Losing ground, gaining ground?

That scare-mongering tactics work, goes without saying. The problem is that the ultra-conservative opposition is far less sure of their own position this time around. Both in terms of arguments as well as in terms of numbers. Which, again, is strikingly similar to the position the Republican party is in. Their core base is shrinking, and while the scare-mongering may rally the supporters of the NO campaign it is far less sure to sway those who haven’t decided yet. And this in a situation where every vote might count.

Aleš Primc, one of the heads of the NO campaign is well aware of this, which is why he suddenly started making an issue out of voters’ registers. Namely, it turns out that, on average, fifty people per day die in Slovenia. From Primc’s point of view this translates into fifty people who could have voted no but won’t. And since the State Electoral Commission makes the final update of the registers about ten days before the vote (they take their data from the Central Citizenship Register), on the day it sends out invitations to all eligible voters to vote in a referendum, this means that around five hundred people who will not be voting due to the fact that they will be dead, will still be eligible to vote.

Now, normally, this wouldn’t matter. But unlike the election process, where the resulting percentage of votes is calculated against votes cast, the last iteration of referendum rules calls for a two-step verification. A referendum result only overturns the law passed if a majority of votes cast are against but only if the total votes against amount to at least 20 % of the entire electorate. Including those five hundred dead people who are projected to pass away in the days between the final update of the voters’ registry and the actual vote.

Five hundred votes is not exactly a big number and since last year’s referendum on archives was held under the exact same conditions and no-one objected, the State Electoral Commission told Primc he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but it all goes to show just how nervous the ultra-conservatives are about the final outcome. And if the whole thing does indeed come down to the wire and the NO campaign ultimately loses, you can be sure the result will be challenged one way or the other.

No man is an island

Adding to the complication for the NO campaign is also the growing discrepancy between their general world outlook, which is (nominally, at least) pro-Western and their stance on marriage equality, which is, well, increasingly pro-Eastern. I mean, just look at it: You’ve got devoutly religious countries, big and small, such as Argentina, Brasil, Ireland and Luxembourg (to name but a few) adopting marriage equality. You’ve got the US of A and the United Kingdom doing the same. You’ve got countries that are predominantly Catholic, Protestant or atheist doing the same thing over and over again: Spain, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, France…. the list gets longer and longer every year. Point being that the opponents of same-sex marriage in Slovenia are increasingly left without outside reference. Hell, even the Pope went soft-ish on the LGBT issue in general. Point being that no man is an island and that for all the doubts and misgivings the Slovenian electorate might have about the issue, there is mounting evidence that the world doesn’t end if people of the same sex can get married.

This of course does not prevent the NO side from coming up with a plethora of run-for-your-lives bullshit, including (but not limited to) the claim that same-sex couples will be “buying babies from surrogate mothers” and that “your kids will be turned into gays and lesbians by schools teaching them same-sex ideology”. Now, these and similar claims have been refuted time and again, the latter most effectively by Jure Šink (link in Slovenian), who held a senior position in the education ministry during the Janša 2.0 government. Which is yet another hint at the fact that the NO campaign is struggling with a broader appeal even with people with whom it would probably find common ground on other issues.

And yet, there is still every possibility that the YES camp loses yet another vote. Not just because bleeding voters on one side does not automatically translate into winning them over for the other side. It could be that come referendum Sunday, not enough people will be bothered to vote YES even though they support equal rights in the first place. This especially goes for GenY voters and even younger (apparently called GenZ) who take so many things for granted that they can rarely be bothered to care. I mean, LGBT rights, In Slovenia at least, are a cause old at least three decades. The vast majority of GenY wasn’t even born when gays and lesbians were starting their struggle in what was for that day and age a liberal environment. And one could argue that back then in many respects Slovenia was much more liberal than it is today. But since LGBT citizens have almost the same level of rights as their heterosexual compatriots, this can create a false sense of complacency to the tune of “ah, well, another time perhaps”.

Yes, there will definitely be another time. On the whole, the trend appears to be irreversible. But no right was simply acquired, every single one of them was fought over and won in a protracted struggle. So, the question for young voters, who are one of the key demographics for the YES campaign, should not be “why should I bother” but rather “why this wasn’t fixed already?” and then get out the vote and fix it.

The challenge

The YES campaign will also have to stay on message. That alone might prove hard enough. Namely, as many as 39 organisations have announced they will be partaking in the campaign which means that they get to have their say at least once. The majority of those are in the NO camp which means the ultra-conservatives get to have more exposure on a minute-for-minute basis than the YES campaign. And since a majority of the NO camp is consisted either by astroturf organisations and one-man-band crackpots, this puts the YES camp in the dangerous position of trying to refute the absurdest of claims thus wasting time, energy and credibility (pengovsky wagered 20 euros that someone will try to combine the same-sex marriage and the refugee crisis into one big scare mechanism).

The pitfalls of a substantiated argument against a “let’s shit all over them, something will surely stick” was described quite well in this Metina Lista podcast where Briški and yours truly talked to Grainne Healy of the Irish Yes Equality campaign which won the constitutional referendum in Ireland in May this year, enshrining equal right to marry in the country’s constitution by a surprisingly large margin.

The tl;dr of it being stay on-message, let others deal with bullshit and get the vote out.

Which basically sums up the next two weeks in Slovenia as well.

 

P.S.: At Diogenes’ request, here’s a translation of what YES and NO votes actually mean.

By voting YES, you vote in favour of enacting the law that was passed by the parliament and which makes it possible for LGBT couples to enter into marriage legally.

By voting NO, you vote to reverse the decision of the parliament, thereby allowing only heterosexual couples to enter into marriage legally, while keeping LGBT couples a couple of legal notches below, at “registered partnership” level.

 

Referendum On Same-Sex Marriage Blocked But Not Over And Done With

Slovenian parliament yesterday voted to block the referendum on same-sex marriage by an overwhelming majority od 53 votes in favour nad 21 against. This comes after the SMC ironed out the problems they had with the move by the United Left, SocDems nad Alenka Bratušek‘s ZaAB, which called a special session of the parliament to block the referendum on the grounds that it would put a human rights question up for a popular vote.

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Final vote in favour of blocking referendum on same-sex marriage (source: RTVSLO)

The SMC initially said it would not impede the referendum, causing much furore in the LGBT community among the progressive part od the society in general, especially since they voted in favour of the law. But as pengovsky wrote days ago, there was much more to their misgivings than a simple flip-flop on the issue.

You see, the story does not end bere. In fact it is entirely possible that the referendum will be held nevertheless.

Namely, what happened yesterday was that a new constitutional provision allowing for blocking the referendum was applied for the first time ever. And now the ball is in the petitioners’ court, giving them a chance to challenge the parliament move in the Constitutional Court. Aleš Primc & Co. will obviously do exactly that. Especially since they’ve apparently already collected the necessary 40.000 signatures.

And as usual in Slovenia, this constitutional provision, enacted during Janša government 2.0 was not followed up with necessary legislation. This existing legislation on popular initiative is to be applied in analogy which leaves even more room for manoeuvre that there was meant to be in the first place.

So, the way things stand now, the whole same-sex marriage issue will land in front of nine judges of the constitutional court. The judges have 30 days to decide but they have anything but a consistent record on such issue. Both as an institution and as individuals. In fact, given past experience, it not at all unfathomable that they will allow the referendum to go forward, be it on procedural ground, be it on substance.

And if you’re not worried yet, try this on for size: in the constitutional court, the deck is stacked against proponents of same-sex marriage. Because technically the defendant is the National Assembly as an institution and not political parties which voted in favour of blocking the referendum. This means that the actual legal argument for blocking the referendum will be laid out by the parliamentary legal service. Which in itself is not a problem, since the said service sports some of the best lawyers in the country. The problem is that the parliamentary legal service can by its very definition only make a legal argument.

In all probability, the argument in favour of the referendum will be made by more or less the same legal team which is heavily affiliated with the NSi and by extension the Catholic church and which already has a couple of constitutional victories under its belt, most notably the case against the naming of Tito Street and, more recently, a case against discriminatory funding of private schools with regard to state schools.

But the question at hand is not just legal, it is also ideological and emotional. And nothing prevents the judges to look beyond the mere letter of the law. In which case the odds for green-lighting the referendum increase dramatically.

And should this happen, the petitioners will have been inadvertently given an enormously powerful weapon in the referendum debate. Namely, it goes without saying they would claim that even the constitutional court thinks that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Which of course wouldn’t be true, but they would go ahead and say it anyway. Because the more doubt they can sow in the people’s minds, the better. And the proponents of same-sex marriage, an already wily heterogeneous group, would face even more of an uphill battle, demanding even more discipline and consistency.

All of that in a debate on an issue where emotions will ultimately decide. So, while the vote in the parliament was a politically bold move, the issue is far from settled. And until then, the law allowing same-sex marriage is on ice.

 

 

Same-Sex Legislation (Predictably) Not Yet Home Safe

Remember when pengovsky wrote that the new same-sex weddings legislation is not yet home safe? Well, guess what…

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Modern Centre Party – SMC (source)

The SMC seemingly flip-flopped on the issue, saying they will not challenge a referendum initiative which would yet again put up the same-sex weddings issue to a popular vote. Naturally most of the supporters of same-sex weddings went apeshit and the SMC was served a proper Twitter-storm. Its intensity was probably confounded by the fact that in the eyes of many people the SMC finally saw the light by voting in favour of the legislation (and doing so en bloc) but has now retraced its steps and found itself on its pre-election neither-nor position.

And, admittedly, it did not look good. Even since Aleš Primc and his band of merry men initiated yet another referendum bid to strike down this harmless but ideologically very loaded piece of legislation, it was more or less the accepted wisdom that the parliament will use the recent changes to the constitution to their fullest effect, prevent the referendum on the grounds of this being a human-rights matter and then let Primc fight it the Constitutional Court. Well, apparently not. At the very least, not just yet. Namely, the ruling SMC stated they’ve no intention of denying the people a vote on an important issue. Later they’ve signaled the decision may be revised but at any rate this turn of events made a lot of people unhappy and they sure let the SMC know.

There are a couple of ways to digest this. The most obvious one is to say that the SMC flip-flopped on the issue or – even worse – that its support for the legislation was not genuine but rather a price they had to pay to join the ALDE (liberals) political group on the european level. This is possible, especially if reports from some months ago are correct and UK LibDems did indeed take issue with SMC sitting on the fence on this prior to elections. But one would like to think that European parliamentary groups take themselves slightly more serious than that and that a true about-face on same-sex weddings would have wider recriminations for the offending party.

So chalk that one to “possible, but not likely” column. A bit more likely is the possibility of the SMC parliamentary group not being entirely on the same page on the issue. There are thirty-six SMC MPs, most of them with little political experience and – understandably – of 50 shades of liberal ideology. So the decision not to go against the referendum head-on (not yet, at least), might have something to do with that. Keeping 36 people on-board on a highly divisive issue while they’re all lobbied and bombarded with arguments from all sides is not an easy task.

And finally, it could be the party simply got scared of its own power and what it can do with it. With great power comes great responsibility and never in the history of Slovenia did such a greenhorn party with such a politically inexperienced leadership hold so much power. And it seem probable, to pengovsky at least, that the moral imperative of ethical policy making simply got the better of them. As a result, Slovenia will once again be the battleground of rational-but-useless arguments in favour of same-sex weddings, opposed by emotional outcries backed up by manipulations, fear mongering and blatant lies by the opponents. The rhetoric is already there. Now it will only get worse (Slovenian only).

But the referendum rules have changed since the Family code was struck down two years ago. Which brings us to the fun part.

Because while the SMC said it will not impede the referendum initiative, there are unofficial signals it might back the bid to prevent the referendum. And while the (centre-)left parties are pushing forward with the bid, they can do didly squat without votes of the SMC. The way this works is that once the petition to hold a referendum is filed, the parliament can decide by a simple majority the referendum is illegal as it deals with basic human rights which then leaves it to the petitioners to challenge the decision at the constitutional court. And with the current composition of the constitutional court suggesting anything but a clear dismissal of the referendum, it seems reasonable to expect that the legislation allowing same-sex weddings will be challenged on a referendum one way or another.

And if there is a referendum, the new rules stipulate that the legislation is struck down if a majority votes against it, but only is this majority represents more than 20% of all eligible voters. Which means about 340.000 people will have to make the effort and cast their “no” vote on referendum day. Which is quite an obstacle.

With this in mind, other dimensions open up which put the SMC decision into a slightly more nuanced perspective. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the special session of the parliament can already be called. Namely, if you wanted to truly dot the i’s and cross the t’s (as lawyer-heavy SMC is probably inclined to do) it seems reasonable to wait and see whether the referendum petitioners will actually collect the necessary 40.000 confirmed signatures. While they’ve done it before, this is a condition that should not be taken for granted. If by any chance Primc & Co. fail in collecting the signatures, then the whole brouhaha will have been in vain and the SMC will have been vilified for nothing. Politically, at least. At the very least, this means the party still has about three weeks to decide whether to fight the referendum in court or not.

But the last – admittedly most wildly optimistic – scenario is also the most interesting. What if, just what if the referendum is held without being challenged in court and fails? What if the majority of the people votes in favour of the law or at the very least decide same-sex weddings are a non-issue and don’t bother to vote, thereby helping the legislation to survive? If that were to be the case, the SMC would suddenly be in the position to claim it gauged the public mood much more accurately than any of the left-wing parties. And even if their reasoning did not go this far, a favourable referendum outcome would give them back much of the political credibility they’ve lost in the past couple of weeks.

At any rate, there are a number of ways this story can unfold and not all of them are negative. But as pengovsky was warning even as the left was celebrating, the hard work had only begun.

 

 

Referendum on the Family Code: Aftermath

The result of Sunday’s referendum on the Family Code left many people disappointed. Also, it left many people happy, especially those who felt that the supporters of YES campaign (including yours truly) were annoying little pains in the asses. But be that as it may, the rejection of the Family Code with a 54% against vote does have a couple of very serious rammifications.

First and foremost it’s the fact that children who live in same sex families still have only one “legal” parent, whereas their non-biological parent has zero legal relation to the child. True, there are ways around that, but that’s courts recognising legal loop-holes and not having a straight-up legislative solution. Secondly, a wholesome legislation regulating all types of partnership remains a distant prospect. And when I say distant, I mean it literally. Before 2012, the last time the parliament was about to vote on same-sex marriage and rights (although not as comprehensive a law as the Family Code) was way back in 2004. which means that at this pace, the next time Slovenia will decide on this issue will be 2020. Just lovely. :/

On the upside, however, even though the Code was rejected, the debate surrounding it, sour as it was, did plenty of good. This was the first time for a lot of peolpe to learn that so called “rainbow families” do in fact exist and that their lives are in every way similar to those of “traditional families” except for a set of really painful and awkward complications, such as the non-biological parent being unable to take sick-leave to tend the child.

So, why was the Code rejected, despite the last poll projecting otherwise? A lot of attempts at explaining it were given: that it was a case of slacktivism; that people don’t give a fuck; that the NO campaign mounted a last-ditch attempt and succeeded; that their lies simply paid off. Well. pengovsky’s take on thing is that for the general population this was a lot to take in as it were. No matter how tollerant people claim to be, they tend to be wary of people who are “different”, especially in an area as intimate as family relations. But even if you cross that brige, you stil have to have the people make a combination of a rational and emotional decision to cast a YES vote. And this is where things ground to a halt in my opinion. Most people were simply unable to make an emotional connection to the kinds of situations the Family Code provided for, even though they may have been able to rationalise into accepting it.

It would therefore be very benefitial if the effect of the YES campaign would go beyond just bringing out (too little of a) vote. If the momentum of raising and maintaining awarenes is kept, then the whole thing probably was not in vain. If, however, NGOs and other progressive groups which came together on this issue are again scattered wide apart, then… well… cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war… for the backlash of the conservative side will be fast and furious. This wasn’t just about gays and their children. It was about the society as a whole, whether it would continue in a more tolerant way or if it will start sliding back into ages past. On this issue status quo is simply not possible.

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