Slovak turnout too slim to strengthen ban on gay marriage

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Slovak conservatives did not turn out anywhere near the 50 percent of voters needed on Saturday to approve a referendum that would have strengthened the country’s ban on marriages and child adoptions by same-sex couples, voting numbers showed.

Gay couple Dusan Veselovsky (R), 39, and Libor Marko, 25, pose for a photo in their apartment on the day of a referendum that aims to maintain a ban on same-sex marriage, in Bratislava February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa

Votes counted from 99.9 percent of the central European country’s voting districts showed turnout of just 21.4 percent, the statistics office said, well below expectations.

The EU member does not allow gay marriages or civil unions, nor adoptions by same-sex couples. The conservative movement that backed the referendum sought to make it more difficult to change those bans through legislation.

Social conservatives in Eastern European countries, including Hungary and Croatia, have been pushing back against what they see as overly liberal policies spreading eastwards in the two decades since the European Union expanded to include former Communist states.

Around 90 percent of those who took part in the referendum voted “yes” to three questions: whether marriage can only be a union of a man and a woman; whether same-sex couples should be banned from adoptions; and whether children can skip classes involving education on sex and euthanasia.

Liberals, gay rights activists and some media outlets had advised voters to defeat the referendum by not taking part, a strategy that worked.

The very low turnout pleased the country’s gay community which sees a better chance to push for change.

“The result shows that a campaign full of prejudice...failed to mobilize people, which is very good news for Slovakia,” activist Lucia Plavakova told Reuters.

“The Slovak society seems ready for granting equality for gays and lesbians.”

The group behind the referendum, Aliancia pre rodinu (Alliance for the Family), argued that the traditional family is under threat with more countries, including neighboring Austria and the Czech Republic, allowing forms of same-sex unions, or child adoption by gay couples.

It said holding the referendum was a success in itself.

“The most important thing is that the family became the topic of the day and perhaps the topic of the year,” the alliance’s Anna Veresova told a television broadcast.

The referendum was backed by the Catholic Church, a powerful institution in the country of 5.4 million people.

Final referendum results are expected on Sunday.

Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by David Gregorio; Editing by Dan Grebler