Coalition still undecided on marriage referendum question

Mailis Reps.
Mailis Reps. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The coalition parties have still not yet reached an agreement on how to structure the question for a referendum about the concept of marriage which is planned to take place next year. At the same time, the working group has agreed on arrangements for the forthcoming presidential elections.

Of the three coalition parties (Center, EKRE, Isamaa), only two are part of the Riigikogu's so-called "democracy working group".

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) told ERR the group works on many different topics and questions and when it comes to presidential elections next year, the working group has already made some decisions.

Reps explained: "We reached a consensus that there is no reason to change any existing laws because there is no need to do so before the elections and one party is wary of a direct election. We can say that the results of the working group's dealings are that no constitutional changes are in the works."

The education minister continued: "When it comes to the referendum, an agreement has been reached in principle. But the actual survey on family and marriage matters has not yet been drawn up, date and language-wise."

She continued: "So no agreement on what will be asked has been reached, nor when it will be asked. But we will ask. But I believe we will set all that up during October because all three parties are interested in giving the national electoral committee certainty over what it should do and how it should look like."

Another member of the working group Jaak Valge (EKRE) has taken it upon himself to make amendments in the constitution to allow for public surveys to be conducted after sufficient public initiative is taken. Since the coalition does not carry enough votes, constitutional changes are not to be rushed.

"The sooner the better, however," Valge said.

Marriage referendum

A referendum on the concept of marriage was agreed in the coalition agreement (page 30) when the government was formed in March 2019. Pushed by EKRE, it would seek to add a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman to the constitution.

EKRE want the referendum to be held at the same time as local government elections on October 17, 2021. Critics have argued this will push aside important local issues and cause complications as not everyone in Estonia can vote in both the local election and the referendum.

EKRE has suggested 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 but it has not been agreed upon by the coalition.

Opposition politicians are opposed to the referendum with Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas calling it "an EKRE provocation others should not join", while the chairman of the Social Democrats (SDE) Indrek Saar has called it a "hate referendum".

On Thursday, Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) said holding the election and referendum at the same time would be "dangerous".

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.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Helen Wright

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