Referendums are not used to decide the rights and freedoms of minorities in modern European democracies where people are held to be equal and treated as such. It is fundamentally wrong and discriminatory in advance, Rait Maruste writes.
Chairman of the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Martin Helme said in a recent radio interview that the Eastern European value space differs from that of the rest of Europe, which is why he supports holding a referendum on the definition of marriage.
Eastern Europe as a social space of values is the result of communist-socialist ideology violently imposed on Eastern European peoples for the past 75 years. Eastern Europeanness as interpreted by Helme was unknown a mere century ago. The deeply Catholic Poland is perhaps an exception here.
The claim sees Helme accept communist, Soviet as well as modern Russian ideology and value space as his own and as EKRE's ideal and declare that he is willing to fight his own people in its defense if need be. We could ask why the party and its chairman are taking this course of action?
What is more, the referendum seems to suit the entire coalition that includes the Center Party and Isamaa, which suggests they also share the conviction that this communist-orthodox mentality and way of life of the recent past needs supporting.
These choices and policy cater not only to pro-Russian voters in Estonia but Russia itself that still laments the collapse of the Soviet Union and its ideological foundations. While we can try and understand the Center Party's motives when looking at the makeup of its voter base, why Isamaa has decided to go down this path remains a mystery.
Scientific research puts the relative importance of LGBT people in society around 4-5 percent. There is no prevailing treatment for what brings about homosexuality, while scientists more or less agree that it is a mix of genetics, the hormonal system and environmental effects.
People not wholly unfamiliar with genetics know that the X and Y chromosomes that determine a person's sex have a so-called gray area in the extent of 4-6 percent where sex is not clearly definable.
Science does not consider homosexuality to be a choice. It is predominantly a biologically determined state, a natural variation of general human sexuality that also occurs elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Like having red hair or being left-handed. Those are also inborn qualities.
My question to EKRE is when do they plan to start fighting these minorities because people who belong to them also do not fit into the framework of "normality"? It was not allowed to write with one's left hand in blessed Soviet times.
Whom will the referendum benefit?
The coalition has said that the referendum will happen, while we still do not know its question and the exact phrasing. It matters a great deal. Debating the referendum's legal nuances and consequences is not expedient before the text of the draft regulation/legislation is handed over to the Board of the Riigikogu.
However, the question of what is going on needs to be asked before we get to formalities. Why are they doing it and whom will it benefit?
A referendum is a tool for making the most important national and political decisions of a country everywhere in the democratic world based on the rule of law. Is the planned referendum truly the most important question for Estonia?
We have dozens of problems (including matters of values) that are more important by several orders of magnitude, starting with the recent pension reform that concerns 700,000 people, energy etc.
At the heart of the planned referendum lies the question of whether the people or the majority extends a right that it has (to get married) to the minority (LGBT people). In other words, the majority will be deciding over the treatment of a minority in terms of which rights, freedoms and obligations they should have.
Referendums are not used to decide the rights and freedoms of minorities in modern European democracies where people are held to be equal and treated as such. It is fundamentally wrong and discriminatory in advance when a majority that is in a position of power (greater numbers) makes a decision regarding a minority without leaving it any chance for protection or proportional counteraction.
It serves to recall that § 12 subsec. 1 of the Constitution prescribes that "Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. No one can be discriminated against based on their nationality, race, skin color, gender, language, origin, religious affiliation, political or other convictions, as well as financial or social status or other circumstances." This unequivocal regulation begs the question of the referendum's constitutionality.
The desire to conduct the referendum "peacefully and without provoking any social group" as described in a recent joint declaration by the sides to the ruling coalition is nothing more than wishful thinking, political manipulation aimed at the simple-minded. The declaration was breached mere hours after it was signed and we have no reason to believe that will change.
Empty political noise
The question of whether the referendum is constitutional needs to be answered by the Riigikogu in the process of preparing for the referendum. A matter that is unconstitutional cannot be put up for referendum (provided the latter is not aimed at amending the Constitution).
Constitutionality needs especially careful analysis if the referendum is phrased as a matter of national issue. It is sensible and reasoned to do it before the referendum takes place to avoid having to repair matters after the fact.
Before action is taken, it pays to determine the difference between a referendum on a matter of national issue as opposed to a referendum concerning draft legislation. They are two different things and come with different consequences.
Even if the referendum will go ahead as a matter of national issue and support defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, a reaction by the Riigikogu in the form of relevant amendments will be in order. That is to say the Family Act that already states that a marriage is between a man and a woman!
Therefore, what we have is a lot of political ado over nothing. Allow me to ask once more who will benefit? Will it be the Estonian society? Hardly, whereas it is very likely that society and minorities will suffer deeply as a result. However, clear attention and media coverage will come the way of a particular political party and the forces that support it. But why should others?
Editor: Marcus Turovski