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Civil rights group urges political parties to clarify whether they support or oppose Church-led proposal to constitutionally ban gay marriage.
The Skopje-based NGO “Plostad Sloboda” [Freedom Square] says politicians must make clear where they stand on calls to change the constitution, outlawing gay marriage.
The heads of the five main faiths in the country last month launched an initiative to add an amendment to the constitution defining marriage as a union exclusively of one man and one woman and banning gay couples from adoption.
Plostad Sloboda called on President Gjorge Ivanov, the Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, and the speaker of parliament, Trajko Veljanovski, all members of the ruling conservative VMRO DPMNE party, to make their position clear.
"We are reminding them to take into consideration both sides on this important issue," Nikola Naumovski, from Plostad Sloboda, told Balkan Insight. “In the end, they are the ones who will make the decisions”.
Naumovski says the current silence of political leaders on the issue does not encourage a healthy public debate. Their silence might be interpreted as a sign that they agree with the clerics on the proposed changes, he suggested.
The VMRO DPMNE party has declined to confirm, or deny, reports that its legislators have started signing a petition in parliament backing the proposed constitutional change.
According to media reports, the changes are to be formally submitted to parliament by the end of the month. In order to pass, two-thirds of legislators must endorse them.
The constitution defines Macedonia as a secular state that does not allow religion to interfere in political life. Although not banned by the constitution, in practice, Macedonia does not allow gay marriages.
A recent poll carried out by a Skopje-based think tank, the Centre for Research and Policy Making, CRPM, showed that Macedonians are becoming more socially conservative. Support for the legalization of same-sex marriages is correspondingly very low, with five out of six respondents expressing their disapproval.
“This only speaks of the lack of public debate. Instead, we hear hate speech from religious leaders who stigmatize everything that does not accord with their beliefs as the devil’s work,” Naumovski says.
The largest religious group in Macedonia is the Macedonian Orthodox Church. The Islamic Religious Community is second in size. The constitution changes are also supported by the country's small Catholic, Methodist and Jewish communities.
Rights activists threaten protests if officials ignore their petition, which urges an end to the practice of referring to homosexuality as an illness in schoolbooks.
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