The Associated Press reported the referendum passed by a 65-34 percent margin.
“Marriage is the only union enabling procreation,” said Croatian Cardinal Josip Bozanić, according to the news agency. “This is the key difference between a marriage and other unions.”
Other European opponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples also applauded the vote.
“This is very good news,” said Ludovine de la Rochère, president of La Manif Pour Tous, a group that led efforts against France’s same-sex marriage law that took effect in May. “We are very happy for Croatians who are going to set in stone man-woman marriage.”
The National Organization for Marriage praised the referendum’s outcome on its blog.
“Despite the usual cries from the left that this vote evinces an animus against gay and lesbian persons, the reasoning for those supporting the initiative is the same common-sense value system that has led to marriage victories in so many states here in America,” the organization wrote.
The AP reported several hundred LGBT rights supporters marched in the Croatian capital of Zagreb on Nov. 30 against the proposed constitutional amendment.
President Ivo Josipović also voted against the proposal.
“The referendum result must not be the reason for new divisions,” he said as the AP reported. “We have serious economic and social problems. It’s not worth it to focus on such issues.”
ILGA-Europe, which held its annual conference in Zagreb in late October, criticized Croatian parliamentarians who allowed the same-sex marriage referendum to take place.
“We believe human rights and issues concerning minority groups cannot and should not be subjected to the popular vote in the first place,” said Gabi Calleja, co-chair of the ILGA-Europe Executive Board. “In a democracy, elected officials have a clear responsibility to safeguard human rights of everyone and not to allow democratic tools to be abused to restrict the rights of minority groups.”
Portugal, Spain, Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are among the other European countries that have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians.
Same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in England and Wales next year.
A bill that seeks to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Scotland on Nov. 20 cleared its first hurdle. Irish voters in 2015 will consider a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow gay nuptials in the country.
Croatia, which officially joined the European Union in July, bans anti-LGBT discrimination. The country’s hate crimes law also includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
The AP quoted Josipović as saying his government will seek to extend legal benefits to same-sex couples who live together. He said in a video message to those who attended the ILGA-Europe conference in Zagreb that human rights “imply the right of every human being to achieve his or her potential in that which he or she is.”