AK: Opposition amendment tactic may postpone marriage referendum to summer

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The riigikogu sitting on Monday, December 14, when the marriage referendum bill passed its first reading.

Thousands of amendments tabled by the two opposition parties at the Riigikogu may mean a proposed referendum on the definition of marriage will be put back to May or June, from its original scheduled date of April 18, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Wednesday night. Opposition leaders say their intention was to strike the bill off altogether.

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the driving force behind the bill and proposed referendum, wants to amend the main act governing Riigikogu procedures, in which case the planned referendum would take place in May or June, AK reported.

Constitutional affairs committee chair Anti Poolamets (EKRE) told AK that: "If we go down the road of amending the Rules of Procedure [Act], we will have to add a few months [to the referendum's planned schedule]. We cannot rule out that it will take place just before summer, or in summer itself, for example, at the end of May, in June."

If the act were not changed, Poolamets went on, it is hard to say when or if the referendum will go ahead.

"This all depends on how we view obstructive proposals here on the committee," he added.

MPs have only a few days to decide on amending Riigikogu procedure rules

To retain an April 18 referendum date, parliament must make a decision on January 18 at the latest, giving MPs less than a week to do so once they return to work in the new year, AK reported.

Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) tabled over 9,000 amendments between them – SDE doing so digitally rather than in paper form this time – a filibustering tactic aimed at derailing the bill altogether.

As reported on ERR News, Reform leader Kaja Kallas said that the intention was to render it as difficult as possible to pass a bill which she said was pointless, farcical and cruel.

The bill, if it passes, will give the go ahead to hold a referendum on the definition of marriage, via a straight yes-no question on whether this should be as between one man and one woman and defined as such in legislation – as it currently is in the Family Law Act.

Alternative questions proposed to current referendum phrasing

The amendments often posed alternative questions of their own, on not only topics such as forestry and cycle lanes, but on whether pink socks should be banned in Estonia or whether athletes competing on Estonian sports teams should be married.

Kaja Kallas said that such questions were no more ludicrous than the one the bill poses.

"Everything is relevant; if you compare them with the question what the coalition wants to ask, then all these questions carry equal weight," Kallas said.

SDE MP and deputy leader Lauri Läänemets reiterated the main purpose of the move, while saying that some of the questions contained in the amendments were worth ones.

Some coalition MPs have also questioned need for referendum

"Naturally, in fact, the idea in ​​submitting our proposals is to actually halt this whole process and give the coalition a chance to withdraw this bill, because they can do so," Läänemets said.

While the bill arose from an EKRE policy which the party got included in the coalition agreement signed with Center and Isamaa in April 2019, all three parties presented it to the Riigikogu jointly.

It passed its first reading on December 14.

Not all coalition MPs have gone along with the bill, however. Several Isamaa MPs expressed their opposition via social media last month, and at least two Center MPs, Oudekki Loone and Andrei Korobeinik, have also proposed amendments to the bill, presented as alternative questions.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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