Voters will consider an amendment to the country’s Law on Marriage and Family Relations that changes the definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people.”
The Slovenian Parliament in March overwhelmingly approved the bill that also extends adoption rights to gays and lesbians.
Churches and other groups that are part of the “Children Are at Stake” coalition collected more than 80,000 signatures in support of a referendum on the law.
The Slovenian Parliament tried to block the referendum, but opponents of marriage rights for same-sex couples challenged this effort. The country’s Constitutional Court in October ruled the vote could take place.
Dec. 20 will be ‘historic day’ in Slovenia
Early voting in the referendum began on Tuesday.
Same-sex marriage advocates in the former Yugoslav republic are using the slogan “It’s Time for Yes” (Čas je Za” in Slovenian) to bolster support for the law. The campaign also features prominent Slovenians who support nuptials for same-sex couples.
“20th December is a historic day in Slovenia, as we the voters have a chance to put the values of solidarity, love, equality and family into practice,” said Simon Maljevac, co-chair of Čas je Za. “During the campaign, we have shown, that there is no reason to deny a group of people the right to marry solely because on their sexual orientation. It’s time for love. It’s time for marriage. It’s time for equality. It’s time for yes.”
Conservative political parties and the Roman Catholic Church are among the groups that are urging voters to reject the law.
Pope Francis on Wednesday met with a group of Slovenian pilgrims at the Vatican. Agence France-Presse reported that the pontiff urged “everyone, especially those with public responsibility, to support the family, a structural reference point for the life of society.”
Human Rights Watch this week noted the referendum will be valid only if at least 20 percent of Slovenia’s 1.7 million registered voters cast their ballots against the law.
“The rights of a minority, particularly to equality, shouldn’t be subject to removal by the whim of the majority,” said Boris Dittrich, director of LGBT rights advocacy for Human Rights Watch. “The right to marry is a fundamental right, as is the right not to be discriminated against, and same-sex couples should not be denied the right to marriage equality.”
Slovenian officials are expected to release preliminary results on Sunday, but they won’t be officially certified until February.
A 2011 law extended many of the same rights that heterosexual couples receive through marriage to gays and lesbians. Voters the following year repealed the statute in a referendum.
Advocates with whom the Washington Blade spoke this week said they expect the vote will be close. They are nevertheless optimistic that Slovenians will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed for a win this time,” Jure Poglajen, a gay dentist from the town of Brezice near the Croatian border, told the Blade earlier this week.
Poglajen and his partner earlier this year spent two weeks on the Greek island of Lesbos where they worked with volunteers who were providing medical care and other assistance to refugees.