Survey: Majority find holding marriage referendum a white elephant

Wedding paraphernalia (picture is illustrative).
Wedding paraphernalia (picture is illustrative). Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

A proposed referendum on the definition of marriage is not for the majority of people the most pressing issue facing Estonia at present, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by pollsters Turu-uuringute for daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL), found that the bulk of respondents found the public vote, more recently downgraded from a referendum (Rahvahääletus) to a plebiscite (Rahvaküsitlus), was not important, EPL reports (link in Estonian). Less than half of respondents would vote "yes" to defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, EPL said.

Of those polled, 2.47 percent said the referendum/plebiscite was "definitely important", with a further 19.75 percent finding it "somewhat important."

25.93 percent of respondents answered that the vote was "somewhat unimportant", along with 45.68 percent who said it was "not at all important". 6.17 percent were undecided.

By age breakdown, only the youngest age group (18-24) saw the vote itself as more important (47 percent) than those who did not see it as important (41 percent).

More than 50 percent of respondents in all other age groups found it not important, with that figure rising to 72 percent among those aged over 75.

By ethnicity, 60 percent of native Estonian speakers thought the proposed vote, due to take place in spring, was not important, though 54 percent of non-ethnic Estonians, meaning primarily native Russian speakers, thought that the vote was an important or quite important one.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they would vote in favor of marriage being defined as between one man and one woman, with 27 percent saying they would vote against that definition, or it being enshrined in the constitution, and 21 percent saying they would not take part in the vote.

Marriage is currently defined in the Family Law Act as between one man and one woman; the Constitution currently makes no mention of marriage.

Amending the Constitution is also in question, with many legal experts saying that this would not be as straightforward as holding a referendum – a policy of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) which they got into the coalition agreement concluded with Center and Isamaa in April 2019 – and then amending the Constitution accordingly.

The planned referendum was originally expected to be held in fall 2021, concurrently with the local elections, but has been brought forward to April or May next year.

Critics said holding it at the same time as the local elections would cloud significant local issues and confuse the electorate, not least because while all residents of Estonia can vote at the local level, only citizens can vote in a referendum.

The drive to hold the vote has also had some heads scratching as to whether it is the most important thing to be focusing on amid the coronavirus pandemic and other pressing issues.

The full EPL article (in Estonian) is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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