Coalition has not reached agreement on organization of marriage referendum

Andrei Korobeinik.
Andrei Korobeinik. Source: ERR

A coalition working group has not yet reached a consensus on the organization of the marriage referendum which may take place at the same time as the location elections in November 2021. The necessary amendments to the law are planned to be adopted during the autumn.

It was agreed during coalition formation negotiations last March that a referendum would take place during this government term to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The idea was put forward by EKRE and who want to amend the constitution. That a definition of marriage already exists in Estonia's Family Law has not put EKRE off the idea of holding a referendum.

In order to change the constitution, two governments must agree, meaning the current government and the one following it.

Member of the working group Andrei Korobeinik (Center) said planning for the potential referendum involves defining the question to be put to the public and the accompanying legal framework. 

"This agreement can also be used for other topics in the future. There are many of these topics where certain interest groups would like to put forward as a referendum, currently there is no ideal solution, but something has to be chosen," Korobeinik said.

He emphasized that new bills must be processed in a balanced way.

"At the moment, there are a whole host of proposals on the table, it is not the case that every party is fiercely defending its proposals, but still we are trying to reach a compromise solution that would remain valid in Estonian law for decades and strengthen democracy," he said.

Another member of the working group, chairman of Isamaa Helir-Valdor Seeder, said he hoped during the autumn session the Riigikogu will be able to resolve issues related to the referendum.

"First of all, we have to formulate the exact question of the referendum, it is important what is asked of the people. It is the main political dispute. The rest is technical and financial issues which need to be fixed," Seeder said.

Seeder did not directly answer the question of whether he is in favor of holding local elections and a marriage referendum at the same time.

Seeder said this is how the coalition agreement was agreed, and the coalition agreement is a compromise between the parties. The partners of the coalition may not like everything in the same way.

Opposition parties Reform and the Social Democrats are against holding a referendum. It has not yet been agreed if it will be held at the same time as the local elections in 2021.

How can the constitution be amended?

Yesterday ERR News published an opinion article from Reform Party chairman Kaja Kallas which includes an explanation of how the constitution can be amended, which is republished below:

"First of all, there are three ways to amend the Constitution:

  1. At a referendum;
  2. by two consecutive compositions of the Riigikogu;
  3. or by the Riigikogu in expedited process.

"The latter needs a majority of four-fifths to be initiated and a two-thirds majority to pass.

"If a constitutional amendment is put up for referendum and fails, the president has no choice but to declare extraordinary elections. The coalition aims to outsmart the Constitution by putting the amendment up for referendum as a miscellaneous national issue.

"This is unconstitutional as the procedure for constitutional amendment is provided by the Constitution alongside the possible consequences of such a referendum.

"Secondly, to put a constitutional amendment up for referendum, a three-fifths majority in the Riigikogu is required. Therefore, a constitutional amendment cannot be put up for referendum with just the coalition's votes as it would require support from 61 delegates.

"Thirdly, tying such a referendum to local government council elections would cause a rift among voters because while referendums are open only to citizens, all residents can participate in local elections."

The legal text can also be read in English in the Estonian constitution, chapter XV.

What does the coalition agreement say?

The coalition agreement agreed upon by the Center Party, Isamaa and EKRE last year states:

"Among other national issues, we will conduct a referendum on the proposal to amend the Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The vote on this issue will be implemented in 2021, concurrently with the elections of municipal councils." (page 30).

The agreement can be read here in English.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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