A small group of LGBT activists rally outside the Parliament building in Kutaisi, holding posters reading: “Do you want to win elections at our expense?”; “Tackle real problems”; “Give up populism”, March 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of Keti Kalandadze/17 May
Parliament has launched formal procedures for Georgian Dream ruling coalition-proposed draft of constitutional charges that would define marriage as union of a man and a woman.
Parliament endorsed on March 18 with 81 votes setting up of a 15-member commission, which will lead a month long public discussions of the proposed constitutional amendment – a formal process required for any constitutional change before it is debated in the Parliament and then put on vote in the legislative body.
Meanwhile outside the Parliament building in Kutaisi, a small group of activists from LGBT rights group, Identoba, were gathered to protest against the proposal, criticizing it as “populist” move aimed at instrumentalising LGBT issues for political gains.
“Stop demonizing LGBT community and stop instrumentalising this issue for gaining support ahead of the elections. Not a single LGBT rights group has ever raised this issue of [same-sex marriage] in Georgia,” one of the participants of the rally, Lado Bitsadze, said.
Two lawmakers from the GD ruling coalition have reacted to this small rally outside the Parliament by making homophobic insults.
Tamaz Mechiauri, chairman of parliamentary committee for budget and finances said: “It is simply cynical when they start such rallies from Kutaisi, the city from where the [King] David the Builder started reunification of Georgia [in early 12th century], but some start becoming pederasts [term used in Georgia as a derogative form for gays].”
Another GD lawmaker, who used the same homophobic slur when speaking about the demonstration outside the Parliament, was Omar Nishnianidze.
The constitutional amendment was initiated by 80 lawmakers – most of them MPs from the GD parliamentary majority group, as well 7 out of the Free Democrats opposition party’s 8 lawmakers. The Republican Party, a member of the GD ruling coalition, “distanced” itself from the process of initiating of the proposal, but two of its lawmakers – Malkhaz Tsereteli and Pridon Sakvarelidze – put their signatures on initiation of the bill.
Article 36 of the Georgian constitution currently reads: “Marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses.”
Proposal to amend the constitution offers the following wording: “Marriage, which is a voluntary union of a woman and a man with the purpose of creating a family, shall be based on equal rights of spouses.”
Georgia’s civil code already specifies that marriage is a “voluntary union of man and woman”, effectively banning same-sex marriage.
According to the explanatory note, attached to the bill, that defining marriage explicitly in the constitution that marriage is union between a man and a woman is needed to remove “questions and concerns within a large part of the society.”
Speaking at the parliamentary session, discussing setting up of the commission to lead the public debates on the matter, GD MP from the Conservative Party, Giga Bukia, said that the proposal constitutional amendment is required because “question marks have been raised and as you know there is a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court as well – there are people who question this principle of the marriage being a union of only man and woman.”
He was referring to a complaint that was lodged with the Constitutional Court in late January in which applicant Giorgi Tatishvili is requesting for the legalization of same-sax marriage. LGBT rights groups immediately distanced themselves from this lawsuit, saying that it was counterproductive and of a lower priority issue in the country where gay people face much more pressing problems such as “physical, psychological and verbal abuse and violence”.
Activists suspect that some political forces, which try to instrumentalize LGBT issues for political gains, as well as the Georgian Orthodox Church, might be actually behind this “provocative” constitutional lawsuit to use it as a pretext for justifying a need for introducing constitutional bar to same-sex marriage.
“I want to thank our coalition leader, the Prime Minister [Giorgi Kvirikashvili] and all the other people who think that no one should have a desire to question or speculate over this issue… Marriage – from the natural and all the other point of view – is union between man and woman,” MP Bukia said, referring to PM Kvirikashvili’s March 7 statement in which he said that the GD ruling coalition agreed to go ahead with this constitutional amendment.
UNM MP Giorgi Kandelaki told journalists that putting forth this proposal amounts to “legitimizing” Russian propaganda, which tries to push a false narrative as if the EU wants to impose same-sex marriage on Georgia. “Georgia’s civil code already says that the marriage is a union between a man and a woman and no one is asking us to change it,” he said.
But lawmaker from opposition Free Democrats party, Victor Dolidze, who has put his signature on the initiative, says that such a proposal will help to counter that very Russian propaganda and introduction of definition of marriage in the constitution will deprive pro-Russian forces of their false argument as if the EU tries to impose same-sex marriage on Georgia.
UNM MP Gigi Tsereteli said at the parliamentary session on March 18: “We are not against of setting up of this commission, but we do not have our representative to this commission because of a simple reason: first, this issue is already regulated by the legislation [referring to civil code]… It has never been a topic of discussion and we believe that this issue is already solved and regulated by the legislation. Second, this is not an issue, which is a matter of concern now for the Georgian population… We believe that this is an artificially create issue… Let this commission work, and we [UNM] will probably make our final decision [over the proposal] when [the constitutional amendment] is put for discussion in the Parliament.”
UNM MP Nugzar Tsiklauri said: “It causes only bewilderment why this issue was at all raised. Is there anyone in this chamber who doubts that marriage is a union between a man and a woman? Is there anyone beyond this chamber who questions it?.. Then why it was put on the agenda? Why don’t we put in the constitution a provision like banning man beating his grandmother? The only reason why this issue was raised is a meager one and that’s political. How the Parliament managed to go down this path of decline by making this issue, which is so clear for all of our citizens, a cause of stir? That’s irresponsibility. The Georgian Dream now tries to divert public attention from its complete failures in external and internal politics to this issue by asking people: Is marriage union between a man and a woman? Yes, of course it is, and we all know it… But by raising this issue the ruling coalition has admitted its political failures.”
MP Gia Volski, who chairs the Georgian Dream parliamentary faction, said that it should not become an issue for “gaining political dividends”.
“We are not introducing anything new. We bring more clarity to the issue. This is not an issue, which should cause a stir, confrontation, loud political statements and that’s not an issue on which it’s possible to gain political dividends,” he said.
GD MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party called for “cautious” when discussing the proposal and for refraining from using this issue for political attacks.
Support of at least 113 lawmakers in 150-member Parliament is needed for passing of a constitutional amendment. It has to be adopted with three hearings during two separate sessions with an interval of at least three months, which means that even if the proposal on setting constitutional bar to same-sex marriage is adopted before parliament’s summer recess, it should then again be put on vote in Autumn just before the October parliamentary elections, otherwise the issue will move in hands of the next parliament, elected in October polls.