The Georgian Dream (GD) ruling coalition will initiate a draft of constitutional amendment that would define marriage as union of a man and a woman, PM and leader of the coalition, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, said on March 7.
Some rights groups say the initiative is a “populist” move ahead of the parliamentary elections aimed at winning support of Georgia’s predominantly conservative society and of the Georgian Orthodox Church; gay rights activists fear that it will further marginalize LGBT community and contribute to further rise in homophobic sentiments in the country.
The Republican Party, a member of the five-party Georgian Dream ruling coalition, has “distanced” itself from the process of initiating this constitutional amendment. Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili, who is one of the leaders of the Republican Party, however indicated on March 7 that differences over this issue will not serve as a cause for split with the GD coalition; he also specified that although Republicans actually agree with the proposal in substance, they oppose it because the draft is not likely to garner 113 votes in the Parliament, required for any constitutional amendment to be confirmed.
Article 36 of the Georgian constitution currently reads: “Marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses.” GD’s proposal is expected to offer replacing “spouses” with “a man and a woman.”
Georgia’s civil code already specifies that marriage is a “voluntary union of man and woman”, effectively banning same-sex marriage.
The GD government first floated idea of introducing constitutional bar to same-sex marriage in March, 2014 in parallel to draft of anti-discrimination legislation; the latter was opposed by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which tried in vain to achieve removing of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the anti-discrimination bill, which was adopted in May, 2014.
Speaking after a meeting of political council, uniting leaders of the GD coalition member parties, PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili said on March 7: “The initiative involves strengthening of civil code clause about marriage being union of woman and man at the level of the Constitution… We reiterate that the [GD] coalition remains committed to principles of elimination of all forms of discrimination [legislation adopted by in 2014] and at the same time we offer an initiative to make such an important value as marriage guaranteed at the level of the Constitution.”
The idea of constitutional bar to same-sex marriage was re-floated last month when a senior GD lawmaker Gia Volski of the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the largest party within the ruling coalition, said that the GD was considering proposing a relevant draft of constitutional amendment.
His remarks came after a complaint was lodged with the Constitutional Court in late January in which applicant Giorgi Tatishvili is requesting for the legalization of same-sax marriage by arguing that the clause of civil code, defining marriage as union of man and woman, is unconstitutional.
LGBT rights groups immediately distanced themselves from this lawsuit, saying that it was counterproductive and of a lower priority issue in the country where gay people face much more pressing problems such as “physical, psychological and verbal abuse and violence” and where LGBT people “often become victims of beatings, intimidation, and marginalization.”
“Because of this violent environment, LGBT persons in most of the cases have to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender identity… and even if legalized, the right [for same-sex couples] to marry would still remain unavailable for most of them,” Tbilisi-based groups Identoba, LGBT Georgia, Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, and Temida said in their joint statement on February 8.
Activists suspect that some political forces, which try to instrumentalize LGBT issues for political gains, as well as the Georgian Orthodox Church, might be actually behind this “provocative” constitutional lawsuit, which some politicians can also use as a pretext for justifying a need for introducing constitutional bar to same-sex marriage.
In a separate statement on February 17, the same groups, plus Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, condemned GD’s planned proposal on constitutional changes and called on the authorities to “depoliticize LGBT issues and not to use them for political speculation.”
Amending constitution is a lengthy and complicated process.
A group of at least 76 MPs can initiate the process and the draft then has to be put for public discussion, which should last at least one month.
Any constitutional amendment requires support of at least 113 MPs in the 150-seat Parliament, where GD ruling coalition has 87 members.
The same amendment has to be endorsement by at least the same number of MPs in a separate vote, which cannot be held during the one plenary session cycle – if the amendment is approved during a spring session of the parliament, a separate vote should be held during autumn session.
In a written statement on March 7, explaining its decision to distance itself from the proposal of other members of the GD coalition, the Republican Party said that “there is nothing to be specified” as under Georgia’s constitution and legislation “it is obvious that marriage is union of only man and woman and no one and nothing obligates us either politically or legally to introduce any changes in this regard.” It also said that approval of this amendment in this Parliament is “impossible” because it will fail to garner 113 votes.
“We leave it for the Georgian citizens to determine what is the reason behind pushing for this issue; who is pursuing wrong path with sincere motives, and who is trying to gain political dividends through speculating on this very sensitive issue,” the Republican Party said.
Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili of the Republican Party said that this constitutional amendment should only be initiated if “we are sure that the process can be finalized,” which is less likely in the current Parliament.
“Fruitless attempt will be counterproductive. If we initiate the process, it means that we say the constitution lacks something and it needs to be clear in defining that marriage is union of man and woman; but if we fail to adopt the amendment, it means that we make things more complicated – it means that we are saying the constitution can be interpreted otherwise, but we are not able to change it. For this very simple reason we remain on the position that initiating of this process is wrong and counterproductive,” Usupashvili said.
The Republican Party said that “it is not going to recklessly step into this political trap.”
PM Kvirikashvili said when announcing about GD’s decision to initiate the constitutional amendment that the Republican Party had a differing opinion from rest of the coalition members, but these differences were not about “the essence of the issue, but about the ways how to implement it.”