January 21, 2015 at 2:07 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Macedonian lawmakers approve same-sex marriage ban

Bekim Asani, Macedonia, gay news, Washington Blade

Bekim Asani, chair of LGBT United Macedonia, a Macedonian LGBT advocacy group, is among the advocates that oppose efforts to amend the country’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy of Bekim Asani)

Macedonian lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Amendment XXXIII passed in the former Yugoslav republic’s assembly by a 72-4 margin less than a year after Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s government introduced the proposal.

“Marriage shall be a life union solely of one woman and one man,” reads the proposed amendment.

Macedonian law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Amendment XXXIII states the country “requires a clear and precise constitutional definition of marriage as a union solely of one woman and one man.”

“Marriage exclusively defined as the union between one woman and one man is an integral part of human history, a constant and centuries-long tradition in this region,” reads the proposed amendment. “Marriage is one of the fundamental pillars of society. Thus, marriage constitutionally defined exclusively as a union between one woman and one man shall contribute to marriage as an institution being further acknowledged and promoted in our society.”

The LGBT Support Center, an advocacy group based in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, is among the organizations in the former Yugoslav republic to criticize the proposed amendment.

“These constitutional changes are not only completely unnecessary and redundant, but discriminatory and undemocratic to their very core,” said the LGBT Support Center in a statement. “The only real effect would be enhancing the negative social stigma on LGBTI people, further marginalizing this already deeply marginalized community and unnecessarily increasing the burden of everyday life of LGBT people in Macedonia.”

Chris Paliare, president of the Macedonian Canadian Lawyers’ Association, in a letter he wrote to Gruevski last October also argued the proposed amendment is unnecessary.

“Constitutionalizing these provisions has no rational legal justification and can only be justified, if at all, for some political gain, something that should never be part of a government program when human rights issues are at stake,” said Paliare.

Macedonia’s LGBT rights record lags far beyond those of most other European countries.

The former Yugoslav republic decriminalized homosexuality in 1996, but the country’s anti-discrimination laws currently do not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Same-sex couples in Macedonia also lack legal protections.

Anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain commonplace in the country.

The LGBT Support Center in Skopje has experienced at least six attacks since 2013. Two members of the LGBT Association of Macedonia were injured last October when a group of masked men attacked a coffee shop in the country’s capital where they had gathered to celebrate the group’s second anniversary.

Bekim Asani, chair of LGBT United Tetovo Macedonia in the city of Tetovo, told the Washington Blade before lawmakers approved the marriage amendment that he faces discrimination and threats on a daily basis.

“I can’t be who I am,” he said. “It is the same for every other openly LGBT person (in Macedonia.)”

Tanya Domi, an adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University who is currently writing a book on the LGBT rights movements in several Balkan countries, told the Blade that many Macedonian advocates have been attacked and “forced to seek emergency health care.” She noted many of them have also been evicted from their homes.

“It is a deeply hostile environment for LGBT persons,” said Domi.

Asani told the Blade he feels the proposed amendment will only worsen the situation for LGBT Macedonians.

“Macedonia is democratic country it should be free but when it comes to LGBT in reality it is not like that,” he said. “With the constitutional changes, a bad situation for LGBT people will get even worse.”

Same-sex marriage is legal in Portugal, Spain, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Irish voters in May are scheduled to vote on a referendum that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Finnish lawmakers in November approved a measure that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the Scandinavian country. Parliamentarians in Estonia and Malta within the last year have extended civil unions to same-sex couples.

Slovak lawmakers in June 2014 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to their country’s constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Croatia, Hungary and Latvia also define marriage as between a man and a woman in their respective countries’ constitutions.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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