Are U.S. Religious Groups Shaping Legislation in Romania?

 By: Sydney Wright

In September 2015, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis served five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex-couples because it went against her religious beliefs.[1]

Fast-forward to October 2017 and Davis took a nine-day trip to Romania, accompanied by a representative of U.S.-based religious group Liberty Counsel.[2] The trip couldn’t have been timelier, as the Romanian government is just months away from potentially outlawing gay marriage for good. [3] She and the Liberty Counsel rep met with Romanian government officials and discussed the “impact of same-sex ‘marriage’ on religious liberty.”[4]  This is likely Davis’s first trip to Romania, but for Liberty Counsel, one of many U.S.-based religious groups advocating anti-LGBT legislation in Eastern Europe, Romania is familiar territory.[5]

Recently, U.S. religious groups have capitalized on Eastern European sentiments and played an active role in mobilizing citizens to restrict LGBT rights in places like Georgia, Bulgaria, and other parts of Europe.[6] For most Eastern European countries, joining the European Union has not remedied social inequality nor turned stagnant economies prosperous as was promised.[7] As young voters in the region grow more frustrated with the EU, they are leaning farther right on political issues and adopting nationalist ideals.[8] For example, in Austria, Hungary, and Poland, illiberal political groups are building support among lower-income voters by pushing conservative values and anti-immigration.[9]

This nationalist narrative also targets members of LGBT community, who are considered a threat to the restoration of traditional values.[10] Vlad Viski, president of Romanian-based LGBT advocacy group MozaiQ, said: “The American [religious] groups have been promoting these [anti-LGBT] themes for a long time, also outside of Europe, but in the last five years or so they became very active in Eastern Europe where they seem to have found fertile ground.” [11]

Two such groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Liberty Counsel, have increased their presence in Romanian politics by advocating for a constitutional amendment that will ban same-sex marriage in the country outright.[12]

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has classified both the ADF and Liberty Counsel as anti-LGBT hate groups.[13] The SPLC describes Liberty Counsel as “a legal organization advocating for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty”[14] and the ADF as an advocacy group that “claims that a ‘homosexual agenda’ will destroy Christianity and society.”[15]

Based on the SPLC’s analysis, these groups may find common ground with the Romanian Orthodox Church, whose Patriarch recently urged followers (more than 85 percent of the Romanian population) to “support the Church’s effort to protect the natural, traditional and universal family, and resist some new family models that consider the natural woman-man union only one model among others.”[16]

Liberty Counsel and ADF have played an active role in supporting the latest initiative launched by the Coalition for Family, a conservative Romanian non-governmental organization that aligned in 2016.[17] The initiative is to amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which it deems a threat to the “moral and cultural values” of Romania.[18] By redefining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, the Coalition aims to uphold “Christian and traditional values with the purpose of defending family and marriage.”[19]

The Coalition’s initiative is aimed at Article 48(1), which defines “family” as “freely consented marriage between spouses.”[20] The current definition appears to leave room for interpretation as to whether “spouses” could mean same-sex marriages.[21] In ­­­2009,[22] Article 259 of the Romanian Civil Code was enacted to ban same-sex marriages and deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed abroad.[23] Therefore, it would seem the Coalition for Family has already won the same-sex marriage battle.[24]

However, despite the Civil Code already banning same-sex marriages, the Coalition for Family is pushing for a total ban with no room left for interpretation.[25] If approved, the Coalition’s proposed revision would make it nearly impossible to legalize same-sex marriage in the future.[26]

In a country of approximately 20 million, the Coalition gathered 3 million signatures in favor of its initiative to substitute “a man and woman” for “spouses.”[27] In Romania, a proposal by 500,000 or more citizens qualifies the proposal for review by the Constitutional Court.[28] During this review process, the Coalition for Family received legal aid from U.S.-based conservative Christian groups Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).[29]

Liberty Counsel provided “an amicus brief in defense of natural marriage, to counter numerous briefs filed by Soros-backed non-governmental organizations, which called on Romania to abandon its national sovereignty and cede the definition of the family to the European Union.”[30] The ADF also filed an amicus brief “that strongly recommended a favourable decision on the initiative.”[31]

In June of 2016, the Constitutional Court unanimously held that the Coalition for Family’s proposal was valid and could be submitted to parliament.[32] The Court did not rule on the substance of the revision, and Chief Justice Valer Doreanu clarified that at this stage “[i]t is not in the Constitutional Court’s attribution to decide whether it will admit (same-sex) marriage in our constitution, nor to redefine the notion of family.”[33]

The Romanian Constitution provides that once a revision is deemed valid by the Constitutional Court, it is submitted to Parliament for approval.[34] The Romanian parliament consists of two chambers, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.[35] In May of 2017, the Chamber of Deputies voted 232-22 in favor of a constitutional mandate with 13 abstentions.[36] Shortly after, the revision was approved by the Senate’s Human Rights committee and Equality committee.[37] The approvals of each chamber satisfied the constitutional requirement that a majority of at least two thirds of the Chamber of Deputies and of the Senate must adopt the proposed revision before it reaches the final stage of referendum.[38]

A nationwide referendum should have been held within 30 days from the date of Parliament approving the Coalition’s proposed revision.[39] The popular referendum was originally scheduled to be held in November 2017.[40] However, it will be further delayed due to the Constitutional Court’s announcement in early October 2017 that it would analyze the compatibility of the law with the entire constitution (unlike the original review that took place in 2016, where the Court simply confirmed the validity of the initiative and signatures).[41] As of mid-November 2017, the Court’s determination has yet to be announced.

Regardless of the outcome of Romania’s referendum, one can’t help but wonder how much influence U.S.-based religious groups like Liberty Counsel and ADF bring to Romanian politics.



[1] Michael K. Lavers, Kim Davis Fights Same-Sex Marriage in Romania, Washington Blade (Oct. 10, 2017, 10:47 PM),

[2] Id.

[3] Lavers, supra note 1.

[4] Id.

[5] Claudia Ciobanu, Romania ‘Turns Illiberal’ with Moves Against Gay Marriage, Politico (Oct. 6, 2017, 4:10 AM),

[6] Ciobanu, supra note 5.

[7] Ciobanu, supra note 5.

[8]  Lili Bayer, Why Central Europe’s Youth Rolls Right, Politico, (last updated Oct. 24, 2016, 2:51 PM).

[9] Steven Erlanger & James Kanter, Austria’s Rightward Lurch is Europe’s New Normal, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2017),

[10] Ciobanu, supra note 5.

[11] Facing Backlash in Romania – Vlad Viski, Romania, Alturi, (last visited Nov. 9, 2017, 11:49 PM); Ciobanu, supra note 5.

[12] Liberty Counsel, Southern Poverty Law Center, (last visited Oct. 9, 2017, 11:53 PM).

[13] Liberty Counsel, supra note 12; Alliance Defending Freedom, Southern Poverty Law Center, (last visited Oct. 9, 2017, 11:53 PM).

[14]  Liberty Counsel, supra note 12.

[15] Alliance Defending Freedom, supra note 13.

[16] Fr. Mark Hodges, Romania Stalls Bill Defining Marriage as One Man and One Woman, Life Site (Aug. 25, 2017, 2:23 PM),

[17] Fact Sheet: Constitutional Revision for Marriage and Family Protection in Romania, Coalitia Pentru Familie (June 16, 2017), [hereinafter Fact Sheet].

[18] Reuters Staff, Romania to Hold Same-sex Marriage Referendum this Autumn: Ruling Party Leader, Reuters (Sept. 2, 2017),

[19] Fact Sheet, supra note 18.

[20] Rom. Const. tit. II, ch, 1, art. 48(1),

[21] Id.

[22] Romania Adopts Strong Civil Codes Protecting Marriage, Alliance Defending Freedom (July 20, 2009),

[23] Art. 259 New Civil Code Marriage Special Provisions Termination of the Legal Person, LegeAZ (last visited Nov. 8, 2017, 12:20 AM).

[24] Id.

[25] Our Mission, Our Objects, Coalitia Pentru Familie, (last visited Oct. 8, 12:20 PM) (citing as its first objective of the Coalition for Family that “[f]amily must remain defined in the law as the fundamental institution of society, based on the willingly consented marriage between a man and a woman. This definition is to be written in the Romanian Constitution, which establishes the basic principles in the state organization and the fundamental rights and obligations of the citizens.”).

[26] Romania Moves Closer to Ruling out Possibility of Legalizing Same-sex Marriage, Reuters (July 20, 2016, 3:04 PM),

[27] Id.

[28] Rom. Const. tit. VII, art. 150(1). The president, government, or one quarter of all lawmakers may also make a proposal to amend the constitution. Id.

[29] Ciobanu, supra note 5.

[30] Brief for the Legislative Proposal to Revise the Constitution of Romania as Amici Curiae in Support of the Proposal, Off. Gazette pt. 1 (2016) (No. 883),

[31] Romanian High Court Upholds Citizens’ Initiative Affirming Marriage as One Man, One Woman, Alliance Defending Freedom International (July 20, 2015),

[32] Romania Moves Closer to Ruling out Possibility of Legalizing Same-sex Marriage, supra note 26.

[33] Id.

[34] Rom. Const. tit. VII, art. 151(1).

[35] Catholic News Agency, Romania Takes Step Toward Marriage Defense Amendment, Crux (May 27, 2017),

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Rom. Const. tit. VII, art. 151(1).

[39] Rom. Const. tit. VII, art. 151(3).

[40] Ciobanu, supra note 5.

[41] Ciobanu, supra note 5.