EKRE MP issues climbdown on marriage referendum mentioning the constitution

Helle-Moonika Helme
Helle-Moonika Helme Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A referendum on the definition of marriage planned for spring makes no mention of the Estonian constitution, Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Helle-Moonika Helme says.

Helme added that the referendum, which had originally been scheduled to take place concurrently with the fall 2021 local elections, at the same time might open the door to more involvement of society via direct democracy, including more referenda.

Helme, who was first elected an MP at the March 2019 general election, told ETV morning show "Terevisioon" that the wording of the referendum – originally provisionally planned to ask a yes-no question on whether marriage should be defined in the constitution as between one man and one woman – had required some amending after consultation with Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise.

Madise's role primarily encompasses overseeing that basic principles of the constitution are adhered to.

"The wording still needs to be adjusted, to avoid any setbacks," Helme told "Terevisioon", confirming that the word "constitution" will not be included in the referendum question's text.

Helme: Referendum sets precedent, reduces societal tension

"We are still conducting the referendum, since it makes up part of our democracy platform, and we really want it to set a precedent," Helme went on.

"We are still of the opinion that with issues which are of key importance to society, we can ask the people what they really think. This can have the effect of reducing tensions in society," she added.

The Estonian constitution makes no reference to marriage, though domestic legislation does, principally the Family Law Act, which defines marriage a state of union between a man and a woman in its opening section.

A "yes" result from the referendum might pave the way to changing legislation along these lines, she added.

Another key law, the Registered Partnerships Act, passed in 2014 and makes same-sex registered cohabitation legal. However, the act still requires implementing legislation in order for it to fully enter into force.

Helme: Referendum actually pretty straightforward

Helme also said that she found the referendum concept as straightforward, and did not understand the passions it had raised in society.

"The poll is actually pretty simple. I don't understand all these emotions swelling up around the issue /.../ Those people who think it is so (i.e. that marriage is a union of one man and one woman – ed.), can answer 'yes', those who do not can vote 'no', and then we will take a look at the results," she went on.

The MP also rejected the claim that same-sex couples cohabiting in Estonia are currently being persecuted, or would be in the event of a "yes" vote in the referendum, adding that the Registered Partnerships Act would cover that situation.

Helme added that the coalition or her party has no concrete plan about what to do with the act, including whether to issue implementing legislation, after the referendum.

Helme's argument also followed the line that the populace wants and needs stability – as evidenced by the October 1917 Russian Revolution, following which efforts to expunge marriage met with a backlash from the people which led to the institution, albeit not being sealed in churches, remaining in place, she said.

Helme added that the state could not prohibit divorce in the same way it might same-sex marriage, arguing that this was a different category.

"Divorce does not occur because people are married; divorce occurs because people may have entered into a marriage recklessly, or they they haven't gotten to know each other well enough [before the marriage]. This is where the problems of divorce originate," she said.

The current Estonian constitution, the fourth in the country's history, was drawn up in 1992 and has not been amended since. Arguments against amending it appearing in the media have included statements that this would require the consent of two consecutive Riigikogu compositions. The next Riigikogu election is in 2023.

Previous constitutions in the first period of Estonian independence (1918-1940) had been amended, or more accurately reissued, during struggles in the mid-1930s between the paramilitary Vaps movement and prime minister, later president, Konstantin Päts.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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