(Photo: REUTERS/Antonio Bronic)
Croatians voted against same-sex marriage in a national referendum Sunday, breaking the recent trend of European countries moving away from traditional marriage, and going against the views of their president and prime minister.
"Marriage is the only union enabling procreation. This is the key difference between a marriage and other unions," proclaimed Croatian Cardinal Josip Bozanic in a message to followers, according to the Associated Press.
Sixty-five percent of those who participated in the electoral commission voted "yes" on the referendum question "Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?" while 34 percent said "no." As a result, Croatia's constitution will be amended to specifically ban gay marriage. It was the country's first citizen-initiated referendum since it gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
The results are seen as a notable victory for the Roman Catholic Church – which over 87 percent of the population is said to belong to – as the institution identifies marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. According to AP, church-backed groups had gathered 750,000 signatures in support of traditional marriage ahead of the vote.
Croatia is set to become the 28th member of the European Union in July 2014. Its decision to back traditional marriage goes against a recent trend set by other European countries, such as France, the U.K., and Denmark, which all moved to legalize gay marriage in recent years. In total, 10 European countries decided to make same-sex marriage legal, though the U.K.'s law officially takes effect in 2014.
Croatia's biggest leaders opposed the pro-traditional marriage amendment. President Ivo Josipovic said he voted against the amendment and that the government will still be pushing laws to allow same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples when living together.
"The referendum result must not be the reason for new divisions. We have serious economic and social problems. It's not worth it to focus on such issues," Josipovic said.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic commented that "this is the last referendum that gives a chance to the majority to strip a minority of its rights."
Hundreds of gay rights supporters participated in a march in the capital, Zagreb.
"I will vote against because I think that the referendum is not a festival of democracy, but a festival of oppression against a minority, which fights for its rights and which does not have its rights," university student Jura Matulic said on Saturday ahead of the vote.
The nation's Roman Catholic population, meanwhile, is applauding the traditional marriage victory, comparing it to the biblical story of David and Goliath.
"We showed that we know, like David fighting against Goliath, how to direct our small slingstones in the same direction," said Zeljka Markic, who helped organize the drive to collect the signatures.