Gaining Political Power through Discrimination: A Few Conclusions from the Anti-LGBT Referendum in Croatia

Dario Cepo

In November 2013 Croatia held a referendum through which a third of the voting population decided, by 2-to-1 margin, to constitutionally protect marriage as a union between a woman and a man, basically banning same sex couple from marrying. The call for the referendum - lead by the astroturf civil society organisation "In the Name of the Family", and strongly supported by the Catholic Church, and right wing political parties - came as a surprise to political analysts, especially because Croatian LGBT organisations showed no intention of lobbying the left-of-centre government for marriage equality. Supporters of the referendum explained their move as a preemptive attempt to "save" the institution of marriage. Having seen the change in marriage equality across the Western Europe and North America, they posited, the only way to preserve the traditional marriage in Croatia is to put the question for the people to decide.Countering that explanation, the idea behind this paper is that the "In the Name of the Family" needed a highly ideological political question with which to polarize the society and gain visibility through media, and therefore focused on mostly unprotected and discriminated minority - easy feat in a traditional society transitioning from decades of authoritarian rule and with low levels of developed political culture. But once visible and successful, "In the Name of the Family" all but abandoned the original question in order to focus on their actual interest - changing electoral law in a way that would make it easier for them to enter the Parliament. Hence, the hypothesis of this paper is that LGBT rights in Croatia were a collateral victim of the neoconservative political organisation's attempt of gaining political power by using tools provided to them by a democratic, albeit imperfect, political system.

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