Not enough people turned out to vote in the referendum, which asked voters redefine the constitution to specify that marriage could only take place between men and women.
Only 21.08% of voters cast their ballots, according to Romania’s national news agency AGERPRES. The referendum required a 30% turnout, or more than five million people casting ballots, to be valid.
The vote, over Saturday and Sunday, was prompted by a petition started by an umbrella civil society group called Coalition for the Family and signed by nearly three million Romanians.
The organization, which describes its members as “upholding Christian and traditional values,” argued that the constitutional change was needed to “preserve marriage” and defend the family.
Campaigners for LGBT rights welcomed the result. “Romanians rejected being divided and hating each other, it is a victory for Romanian democracy and moreover, Romanians rejected the involvement of the Orthodox Church in the state’s secular affairs,” said Vlad Viski of LGBT rights group MozaiQ.
“We believe politicians must now legalise civil partnerships for same sex couples,” he told Reuters.
Codrin Stefanescu, the deputy secretary general of theSocial Democratic Party, accused the opposition of driving a boycott of the referendum.
“It is a failure of the Romanians and of Romania in general. It was an important issue, maybe two weeks was not enough for the promotional campaign, more debates had to be held,” Codrin Stefanescu told TV station Digi24.
More than 40 members of the European Parliament wrote to Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă in the run-up to the referendum to express their dismay that the vote was being held at all.
“Allowing this referendum to take place adds validity to anti-LGBTI rhetoric and encourages hate speech and violence against LGBTI individuals,” they wrote. “We cannot allow that this legal limbo will place LGBTI individuals, including LGBTI children and children in rainbow families, in a vulnerable position and in flagrant violation of the fundamental right to non-discrimination as enshrined in the EU Human Rights Law.”
The lawmakers also questioned why the Social Democratic Party had taken the unusual step of holding the referendum over two days rather than one. “We are concerned that this could be construed as a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of referendum, by ensuring the 30% threshold of participation is met,” they wrote.
Romania only decriminalized homosexuality in 2001 and doesn’t not currently allow same-sex marriage. But the proposed amendment to the constitution would have made any future changes much more difficult.