Georgia’s Parliament Passes Constitutional Ban On Same-sex Marriage

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Using their 3/4 majority of the 150-seat Parliament, the ruling coalition in Georgia approved a complete overhaul of the Georgian Constitution on Tuesday which includes an article stating that marriage is recognized as being solely “a union between a woman and a man for the purpose of creating a family.” The opposition boycotted the vote as they left the chamber in protest during the final reading.

Despite earlier requests from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission to drop the ban, Georgia has become the latest nation to attempt to add a legal barrier to their highest legislation.

If the newly-approved constitutional package is not vetoed by the Georgian President, or if a Presidential veto is overridden by Parliament, Georgia will become the second Caucasus country after Armenia to forbid same-sex couples from wedding through their Constitution.

Currently, only the Georgian Civil Code bars same-sex couples from marrying and the Constitution merely describes marriage in gender-neutral terms.

The goal by conservative groups to add a constitutional ban gained steamed during election time when high-ranking members of Government doubled down on a ban proposal after the President of Georgia vetoed an effort to hold a referendum on the marriage issue. A lawsuit aiming to afford all couples the right to marry highlighted the topic as well, and the court case is still pending before the Georgian Constitutional Court.

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Georgia’s President Blocks Referendum That Sought to Constitutionally Ban Same-sex Marriage

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After recently being approved by the Central Election Commission and the country’s Prime Minister, Georgia’s President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, announced on Tuesday that a referendum adding a constitutional ban on marriage between people of the same-sex was not necessary and effectively blocked the effort.

For the referendum process to proceed, 200,000 signatures must be verified by the Central Electoral Commission and receive the blessing of both the President and Prime Minister within 30 days.

President Margvelashvili stressed that the Georgian Civil Code, which contains a heterosexual definition of marriage, serves as enough clarification on local marriage laws and labeled the constitutional debacle a “non-issue”.

Although the Civil Code specifies that marriages are between men and women, Georgia’s existing constitution is gender-neutral on the subject and the referendum question brought before voters would have asked the following:

Do you agree or disagree that marriage should be defined as a union of a man and a woman for the purpose of creating a family?

Conservative groups vow to hold protests and take the referendum matter to the Georgian Constitutional Court.

The issue of same-sex marriage has come under the spotlight in Georgia following a lawsuit to legalize same-sex marriage being filed before the Constitutional Court earlier this year.

In response, forces both inside and outside of Parliament mulled an initiative to introduce a constitutional barrier on same-sex marriage, with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili issuing a campaign promise for a ban coming directly through Parliament without holding a public vote. The Prime Minister’s hope is that coalition will be awarded a super majority in October’s general election.

Constitutional changes made through the Legislature require a threshold of 3/4 of Parliament, or 113 of the 150 members, in favor.

While not necessarily in agreement with extending marriage rights, several MPs voiced their doubts about the measure citing the same defense as the President regarding the Civil Code being sufficient and members of the opposition denounced the ban as a political ploy from the ruling party. Accusations of “Russian propaganda” meant to stir anti-Western and anti-EU sentiments were also expressed by some lawmakers. The chances of the threshold being reached were questioned as well due to a previous proposal to add a ban failing in 2014.

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Georgian MPs Begin the Process of a Constitutional Ban on Same-sex Marriage

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On Friday, 81 members of Georgia’s ruling coalition and a few from one opposition party, began the process of changing the country’s constitution to state that marriages in the country are only recognized between men and women. A 15-member committee has been set up to take public opinions for a month.

Georgian matrimonial laws are already heterosexual-only as the Civil Code reads that marriage is the voluntary union between a man and woman, but several members of Parliament cite a recent case for marriage equality filed before the Constitutional Court as a reason to pass the ban.

Their plan is change the constitutional language of article 36 from “Marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses” to “Marriage, which is a voluntary union of a woman and a man with the purpose of creating a family, shall be based on equal rights of spouses.”

Several critics of the measure say that despite agreeing that marriage should remain between a man and woman, the ban is unnecessary because of the current Civil Code and that it amounts to “legitimizing Russian propaganda”. They also accuse the government of using this as a distraction.

A supporter of the ban countered the mention of propaganda by claiming that the marriage ban would remove fears that the European Union would impose same-sex marriage on the country and back the fight against anti-Western propaganda rather than help it spread.

After a month of public consultation, the proposal will enter Parliament. To be successful, the ban needs three hearings held on two different sessions with a three-month interval in between them and at least 113 of the 150 MPs voting in favor. If the initiative is not passed in time for October’s Parliamentary elections, then the proposal will move into the hands of the newly elected Legislature.

For more information on the LGBT rights situation in Georgia, please visit: