(Dec. 24, 2015) In a referendum held on December 20, 2015, voters in Slovenia rejected by a margin of 63.54% to 36.46% a law on same-sex marriage and adoption rights that had been passed by the National Assembly in March 2015. (Taylor Isaac, Slovenia Voters Reject Same-Sex Marriage Law, PAPER CHASE (Dec. 21, 2015); Referendum o Zakonu o spremembah in dopolnitvah Zakona o zakonski zvezi in družinskih razmerjih [A Referendum on the Law on Amendments and Supplements to the Law on Marriage and Family Relations], National Electoral Commission website (Dec. 20, 2015); Wendy Zeldin, Slovenia: Law on Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption Rights Passed, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Mar. 9, 2015).) CNN reported, however, based on information from Slovenia’s Government Communication Office, that the rate of participation in the referendum was “relatively low, … with just over 36% of eligible voters turning out … .” (Tim Hume, Slovenia Rejects Same-Sex Marriage by Large Margin in Referendum, CNN (Dec. 21, 2015).)
The civil society group Coalition for the Good of the Children, which opposed the law, began a petition against it before any same-sex couples were permitted to marry under its provisions and sought court approval to hold a referendum on the new legislation. A referendum held on the same subject in 2012 also resulted in rejection of same-sex marriage. (Id.; Marja Novak, Slovenia Rejects Same-Sex Marriages in a Referendum, REUTERS (Dec. 20, 2015).)
Although the Slovenian Parliament had attempted to block the 2015 referendum initiative on the grounds that it was unconstitutional because marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is a basic right, on October 22, 2015, the Constitutional Court struck down the legislature’s attempt to stop the vote. (Slovenia Court Allows Referendum on Gay Marriage, NDTV (updated Oct. 22, 2015).)
Law on Referendums in Slovenia
The Constitution of Slovenia provides for legislative referendums in its article 90, which states:
The National Assembly is to call a referendum on the entry into force of a law that it has adopted if so required by at least forty thousand voters.
A referendum may not be called:
on laws on urgent measures to ensure the defence of the state, security, or the elimination of the consequences of natural disasters;
on laws on taxes, customs duties, and other compulsory charges, and on the law adopted for the implementation of the state budget;
on laws on the ratification of treaties;
on laws eliminating an unconstitutionality in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms or any other unconstitutionality.
The right to vote in a referendum is held by all citizens who are eligible to vote in elections.
A law is rejected in a referendum if a majority of voters who have cast valid votes vote against the law, provided at least one fifth of all qualified voters have voted against the law.
Referendums are regulated by a law passed in the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority vote of deputies present. (Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (1991, as amended on May 24, 2013), OFFICIAL GAZETTE OF THE REPUBLIC OF SLOVENIA, No. 47/13 (May 31, 2013), LEGISLATIONLINE.)
The Referendum and Public Initiative Act also has provisions on the holding of referendums. It states that the National Assembly may call a legislative referendum if required by at least one third of the deputies or by the National Council, as well as when called for by not less than 40,000 voters. (Slovenia, National Popular or Citizen-Initiated Referendum [PCR] – Legislative Referendum, NAVIGATOR TO DIRECT DEMOCRACY (citing art. 12 of the Act) (last visited Dec. 23, 2015); Zakon o Referendumu in o Ljudski Iniciativi uradno preÄišÄeno besedilo (ZRLI-UPB2) [Official Consolidated Text of the Law on Referendum and Public Initiative (ZRLI-UPB2)], 26 OFFICIAL GAZETTE OF THE REPUBLIC OF SLOVENIA, No. 26/2007 (Mar. 23, 2007), URADNI LIST [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] website.) The Slovenian Parliament is bicameral, comprising the 90-member National Assembly and the 40-member National Council; the latter is described as “unusual among the political systems of Western democracies, as its composition reflects the principle of corporate representation.” (Parliament: The National Assembly, SLOVENIA.SI (last visited Dec. 21, 2015).)
When the voters call for a referendum, the initiators have seven days following a law’s adoption to file the application with the President of the National Assembly. (Slovenia, National Popular or Citizen-Initiated Referendum [PCR] – Legislative Referendum, supra, art. 12a ¶ 2), and the deadline for collecting voter signatures to support the request is 35 days (id. art. 12a ¶ 3). The President of the National Assembly sets a calendar period for the holding of the referendum if the request has been submitted according to law (id. art. 16A).