Teja and Nusa are two Slovenian women who love hiking, skiing, snowboarding, cycling and, above all, traveling the world.
They celebrated their wedding in 2020. There were no problems organizing the wedding, and they did not find any prejudice for being a same-sex couple. In reality, however, it was not an “official” marriage, although Teja and Nusa certainly see it that way. Officially, they concluded a civil union, the only option they had in Slovenia at the time. Since then, however, things have changed dramatically in this small Balkan country.
In early July 2022, the Constitutional Court of Slovenia issued a ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children, making it the first ex-communist state in Europe to do so. The court said the ban on gay couples marrying was discriminatory against same-sex couples and therefore unconstitutional. It gave the National Assembly, the lower house of the Slovenian parliament, six months to amend the Slovenian Family Code accordingly.
Since the court ruling, the first same-sex couples began to legally marry. But while Teja and Nusa now have the right to convert their civil union into a legally recognized marriage, they have yet to decide whether or not to do so; after all, they already consider themselves married.
Parliament approves the amended Family Code
The Slovenian government led by Prime Minister Robert Golob, of the liberal Green Freedom Movement, quickly drafted an amendment to the Family Code and put it to a vote in the National Assembly in early October. The amendment was approved by 48 deputies, with 29 votes against and one abstention.
But opponents of LGBTQ rights in Slovenia quickly began collecting signatures for a referendum on the issue.
Slovenes have twice voted against LGBTQ rights
Those calling for a referendum must be sure that the electorate will reject marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples because this has already happened twice in the last decade.
In 2012, for example, an amendment to the Family Code regarding LGBTQ rights was rejected by 55% of voters in a referendum with voter turnout of just 30.1%. Another referendum on same-sex marriages was held in 2015 and was again rejected by 64% of voters. This time, the participation was slightly higher than 36%.
New referendum unlikely
Despite the opposition to the Family Code amendment, Barbara Rajgelj, a law professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, is certain that there will be no referendum.
“By article 90 of the Slovenian constitution, which clearly states that there can be no referendum on acts that remove something unconstitutional in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms or some other unconstitutionality. And that is the case here,” he said. Rajgelj to DW. .
Open violence against the LGBTQ community
Barbara Rajgelj is no stranger to the issue of LGBTQ rights. A long-time human rights activist, she established Cafe Open, one of the first LGBTQ-friendly venues in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, in 2008.
Despite its popularity within the LGBTQ community, Cafe Open faced aggressive opposition. “Some men from the neighborhood were constantly threatening us. Once we had an event and a guy put a gun on the bar and started yelling and threatening us,” Rajgelj recalled.
On another occasion, activist Mitja Blazic was severely beaten when eight men attacked the café with torches and stones. After that, Café Open received police protection.
gay rights campaign
Cafe Open later became a major meeting place for gay rights advocates in the run up to the first referendum on the Family Code in 2012.
“As a lawyer, I always emphasize that we live in a constitutional democracy: power belongs to the people, but it is limited by the constitutional order,” Rajgelj said. “Like state institutions, from parliament to government to courts, the will of the people is also limited by the constitution.”
‘The political path was a utopia’
Barbara Rajgelj was part of the campaign to defend LGBTQ rights in the 2012 and 2015 referendums. The biggest opponent of gay rights on both occasions was the movement called “Children Are At Stake”.
“Despite the reference to children’s rights, the anti-LGBTQI+ movement is not interested in the best interests of the child. It is more of a political agenda that is global and appears under the notion of ‘natural order’, in which Of course, there is nothing natural, its main goal is the preservation of patriarchy,” Rajgelj said. “After two referendums, which were full of deceit and scaremongering, it was obvious that the political path was a utopia, and the only possible way to achieve equal rights was through court proceedings.”
‘A commitment to the truth’
Rajgelj has no illusions about what the outcome of a referendum would be: “We would lose the Family Code a hundred times over in the referendum. Our strategy has always been commitment to the truth and opposition to all hate speech,” he said.
With the adoption of its amended Family Code, Slovenia has become one of the most progressive member states of the European Union in terms of LGBTQ rights.
However, Barbara Rajgelj fears that the anti-gender movement is growing in Eastern Europe and warns that Western European democracies are not safe from this movement either.
Meanwhile, Teja and Nusa think that Slovenian society is becoming more and more open, despite some deep-rooted social reservations. They feel that the new Family Code of Slovenia offers hope and is a promise of a more equal future for all Slovenian citizens.
Edited by: Rüdiger Rossig and Aingeal Flanagan