Opposition marriage referendum bill amendments may be presented last minute

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Voting in progress on the referendum bill's first reading at the Riigikogu on December 14. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

A bill which would enable a referendum on the definition of marriage has not yet seen any of the promised amendment proposals – potentially numbering in the thousands – materializing from the two opposition parties at the Riigikogu, a coalition MP says. This is, however, likely to change between now and the deadline in less than 48 hours, he said.

Wednesday, December 30, is the deadline for tabling amendments to the bill, and while opposition politicians had pledged large numbers of proposals, Riigikogu constitutional committee chair Anti Poolamets (EKRE) told ERR Monday that none had been received yet, adding that he expected them at the last minute and that this would constitute a filibustering tactic.

Poolamets said: "We assume that they will still come on the 30th (December), an hour or two before the deadline expires. This means that the Riigikogu will not be able to get through them."

Hanno Pevkur, MP from the larger of the two opposition parties, and in fact the largest party at the Riigikogu in terms of numbers of seats, Reform, said that the proposals were on their way, and would number into the thousands.

Pevkur said: "It is hard to tell the exact number at the moment, because the amendments are yet to come, but it could be said that they will be in the thousands."

Pevkur added that the intention was to demonstrate to the coalition that the referendum had led up a blind alley and was not necessary.

Deadline for amendments is 5 p.m. Wednesday

The bill, which if it passes would see the referendum go ahead in April, passed its first reading at the Riigikogu on December 14. Its second reading is due to take place on January 11 2021, with the deadline for amendments to the bill as it is being 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

The smaller opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDE) have also pledged to obstruct the bill's passage. Leader Indrek Saar said that SDE would pull out all the stops in doing this, mainly by making so many amendments to the bill that it would render the bill unpassable.

SDE has employed this tactic in the recent past; in June, the party tabled 50,000 amendments to a bill aimed at removing the body responsible for monitoring political party finances in Estonia, and giving responsibility to the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll).

Should the marriage referendum bill pass, however, the vote will go ahead on April 18. It will be open to Estonian citizens, with voting taking place electronically-only (part of the rationale behind the timing was the electoral office needing to test and debug the latest version of the e-voting platform – ed.) and will pose as a question, with a straight yes-no answer, whether marriage should be legally defined in Estonia as between one man and one woman.

Referendum would ask straight yes-no question

Marriage is already defined as such in Estonian law – the Family Law Act to be precise – though the original intention of the referendum's framers was to have that definition inserted into the constitution, which currently makes no mention of marriage.

Amending the constitution is not something which can be done on the back of one referendum, however, legal experts say.

The referendum, a central policy platform of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) but signed-off on by both coalition partners, Center and Isamaa, was also originally intended to run concurrently with the October 2021 local elections. Critics said that this would have created confusion among the electorate, led to a two-tier system of voting (since all residents of Estonia can vote in the municipal elections, but only citizens can vote in the referendum) and would have obscured more important local issues.

Opponents of the referendum per se have said that there are more pressing issues facing the country at present; foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said Sunday that media reports on the topic were biased and that criticism of the referendum constituted radicalization by an elite, adding that the bulk of the populace did not want any part in that.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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