LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenians held a referendum Sunday on whether to allow same-sex marriage for the first time in any of the former communist nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
The vote was forced by conservative groups, backed by the Catholic Church, who seek to overturn a bill that defines marriage as a union between two consenting adults rather than a man and a woman.
Slovenia’s leftist-dominated Parliament passed the marriage equality amendment in March, but the “Children are At Stake” group has collected 40,000 signatures to challenge the changes before any gay couples were able to marry.
At least 20 percent of the country’s 1.7 million voters must reject the bill for it to be overturned.
Although Slovenia is considered to be among the most liberal of the ex-communist nations, gay rights remain a contentious topic in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation of 2 million.
Voters in the former Yugoslav republic rejected granting more rights to gay couples in a referendum in 2012 and recent opinion polls have suggested they remain sharply divided over the issue.
Igor Zagar, 55-year-old professor from the capital, Ljubljana, said he voted in favor of marriage equality to “support the secular state and against the interference of the church into political issues.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage — including the left-leaning ruling coalition — have called for Slovenia to join Western European nations that have allowed more gay rights. Conservatives and the right-wing opposition have campaigned on traditional family values, arguing that marriage equality paves the way for gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.
Gregor Jerovsek, a 40-year-old mechanic from Ljubljana, said he believed that “the family should not be a field for experimentation.”
“A traditional family should remain the key value of our society,” he said.
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