Indrek Kiisler: Let us cancel the marriage referendum in the name of peace!

Indrek Kiisler.
Indrek Kiisler. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Vikerraadio's daily comment sees journalist Indrek Kiisler ask ruling parties not to hold a referendum in the fall of 2021 over whether marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman as the Estonian people, government and politicians have more pressing matters to attend to in the coming years.

Public debate was fractured in Estonia in 2014. Society took to the barricades over what initially seemed like a harebrained topic. And yet, everyone suddenly had something to say about it. The Riigikogu was processing a bill to regulate the status of couples living together.

Let us take a look in hindsight at why passions flared.

Firstly, Estonia had experienced an explosion of social media by the middle of the previous decade. Suddenly, everyone could have an opinion, speak their peace and pretty soon also resort to public verbal abuse. This fire was further stoked by rapidly growing online media the comments' sections of which hosted true virtual carnage. That is the information technology side of things.

On the other hand, society had spent decades moving toward liberalism and a pendulum needs to reach the extreme position before it starts to swing back. Dissatisfaction with incomprehensible and alien ways that had come to us mainly from the liberal West was mounting slowly but surely. Ironically, that is also from whence came ultraconservative counterreactions that added a measure of organized fervor to the conflict.

The Registered Partnership Act debate also saw an important political shift. Isamaa's decision to oppose the bill cost them their more liberal supporters, with a part of politicians but even more voters leaving the party. Isamaa's hurried backpaddling did nothing to slow down the rise of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) who sailed to the Riigikogu for the first time in 2015 in the draft of forces opposing the act.

Next came the stalemate that we are in to this day. While the Registered Partnership Act was narrowly passed, its implementing provisions were not. Both the supporters and opponents of the act are equally frustrated today, with the latter accusing the former of forcing the bill through parliament, while the former do not take kindly to the latter holding back the implementing provisions. This has left both sides just waiting for the order to charge.

I do not want to take a stance on whether Estonia needs a registered partners act or whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. It simply has nothing to do with me. Estonia has tens of thousands of both happy and miserable married couples, tens of thousands of happy or miserable couples and thousands of happy or miserable same-sex couples. Whether people break up or stay together has nothing to do with certificates in their desk drawers, while it has to do with mutual understanding, forgiveness, the desire to share a life and love. However, if a registered piece of paper makes a lot of people feel better, they should go right ahead and getting one should not be a problem.

That said, I do not like the coalition's plan of putting to a referendum the proposal of marriage being exclusively between a man and a woman. It is nothing more than a political chalice of poison that will spill over to contaminate our public forum for the next summer and fall. Whereas both supporters and opponents will draw from it.

I would emphasize that as far as I'm concerned, marriage could be defined on the level of the law as between a man and a woman, but I know that the road leading up to the referendum will see new virtual barricades erected and the same worn out fire exchanged that we already saw in 2014 and 2015. The same arguments, rhetoric and missing each other's point.

On top of it all, the referendum is scheduled to take place on the same day as local government council elections. On October 17, 2021, we will be electing people who we believe will be best at handling local affairs. To make sure that schools keep working, roads are maintained and for the area to offer better working and recreational opportunities. Instead, our mailboxes will be cluttered with ads where a picture of two men living together has been crossed out or that tell us not to vote for otherwise capable people because they hate gays. The simplest solution would be to have the Riigikogu handle amendments as that is precisely the purpose for which it has been elected by the people.

Let us not voluntarily offer a forum for radical liberals and conservatives, let the fanatics simmer and boil by themselves as we have much more pressing concerns to address and hopefully things to enjoy in the coming years. The government and politicians also have a mountain of actual problems to see to instead of staging battles over how to define marriage.

It is an opportunity for Isamaa and the Center Party to stand up straight and say that head-on collisions are painful for everyone. Whereas no party would have to change where they stand on marriage.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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