Helme: Referendum on marriage reform can also be carried out by survey

Martin Helme on ETV's
Martin Helme on ETV's "Esimene stuudio" Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

While EKRE's proposal to the coalition partners speaks of conducting a referendum on the proposal to amend the constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, EKRE leader Martin Helme told ERR on Monday the referendum could also be conducted in the form of a public survey.

Helme responded to ERR's question on whether or not the referendum will be conducted by poll or survey: "The referendum can also be conducted as a survey. We can still call it a referendum. A referendum is a public survey, through which something is learned or decided. The way we agreed upon in the coalition agreement - the content of our current draft - is according to the constitution a 'public opinion poll on other issues of state".

The finance minister continued: "It is not a legally binding thing. It is not a draft law that we are approving, it is polling the public's opinion, but politicians do not have the political obligation to follow it. I do not think it is possible to not follow it," Helme said.

The proposal, drawn up by EKRE, would see a poll on marriage reform conducted on October 17, 2021, the same day as the local government elections. The public would be asked the question: "Are You in support of a proposal to supplement the Estonian Constitution § 27 with the sentence 'Marriage is a lasting union between one man and one woman?" It would be a "yes" or "no" question.

Helme said a public opinion survey would help alleviate the societal divide regarding the Registered Partnership Act which was passed in 2015. "It would help put the topic to bed. It would give politicians a clear direction and mandate to act in one way or another. It would lessen the alienation of the public and politicians," the finance minister explained.

Helme made a promise: "If the referendum calls for 'yes', then we will make the respective constitutional amendment during the term of this Riigikogu."

Helme: Justice chancellor's position is political

Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise said on September 17 that the result of any potential referendum on marriage would be binding on state bodies and it is not advisable to hold a referendum on the same day as a local election.

Helme said the justice chancellor's position is political: "Noone has brought up the topic being illegal or it having legal complications. It is a matter of values and political preference. The justice chancellor intervened in political discussion. I would have preferred her to stay out of it."

The EKRE leader added there is no need to hold the referendum on a different day than the local election day. "I see no reason for this compromise," Helme said.

"It is a matter of principle for us. It is one of the more critical values which we were able to add to the coalition agreement and if we do not make anything of it, the coalition has stopped working," he noted.

Helme said the question can also be answered electronically, adding that the election service must be prepared to count the results of both the local elections and the marriage referendum.

The estimated costs of organizing the referendum are €1,766,000.

One of the reasons Madise gave for not having an election on the same day as a referendum is that two different groups of people are eligible to vote. Only Estonian citizens can vote in a referendum, whereas people with long-term residency and European Union citizens can also vote in local elections.

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: Kristjan Kallaste

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