Madise: Marriage referendum question must be worded in constitutional terms

Ülle Madise
Ülle Madise Source: ERR

If the majority of the Riigikogu decides that a referendum needs to be made regarding the definition of marriage, then the question is would carry needs to be a constitutional one, and should be checked carefully that the public is not being misled, Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Monday evening.

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has submitted a bill on a referendum on the definition of marriage, which it would like to define as being a union between one man and one woman, and which is not set out in the constitution, to its coalition partners. According to the EKRE proposal, the marriage-related question would be asked at the next year's local elections. Madis said on Monday, September 21, that a survey as such wouldn't be permissible as part of a referendum, and that the bill needs to be put to the vote.

Madise gave her answers to a short interview on AK which follows.

Perhaps you can explain what this is exactly? A survey, a vote or a referendum? And what is the difference?

"The Estonian constitution only allows for a referendum, whose result would then be binding upon all public authorities. A survey is not prescribed by any law in Estonia, and this is where the chancellor's role comes into play: To evaluate if the question asked in the referendum would result in a legally-binding answer."

"The aim was to point out that the wording that was offered in the coalition agreement was contrary to law, though the question posed can be rectified."

"The question should really be: Iif the aim is to secure the institution of marriage, the public (only Estonian citizens can vote in a referendum - ed.) will either be presented with a draft constitutional amendment law - in which case the amendment will enter into force after the vote, or they would be asked an honest and clear question of national interest, but not whether the constitution should ever be changed, because this would really seems to point more towards an opinion poll."

"This would be an honest and specific question, and if the answer were "yes - marriage should remain a union between a man and a woman", then any change in the law that would be contrary to this; any attempt to amend section one of the current Family Law Act, which states that marriage is between a man and a woman, or section 10, which states that same-sex marriage is illegal, would be unconstitutional."

What should the solution be, in your opinion?

"If it is the Riigikogu's majority's desire to arrange a referendum (the bill in effect would decide whether the actual referendum could go ahead - ed.), the question should be framed in constitutional terms. If there is a desire to change the constitution, then a legal amendment bill has to be submitted."

"If the desire is to secure more rapidly the institution of marriage, as the [Lutheran] archbishop (Urmas Viilma) asked of the chancellor, it is really possible to ask a simple, clear, honest question - for example, whether marriage must remain a union between a man and a woman."


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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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