A process that began in the eighties is about – perhaps – to come to completion 35 years later. Slovenia's new Family Code puts LGBT couples on the same level as heterosexual ones. But the shadow of a possible referendum looms on the new law

20/03/2015 -  Stefano Lusa Capodistria

Slovenia just changed the Family Code and gave the LGBT community the same rights as heterosexual couples, including the possibility to adopt children. The long struggle for equality may be completed, but the law is still threatened by the referendum promptly promoted by opponents of the measure.

The eighties

But let us start from the beginning. The LGBT question first became strongly felt in Slovenia in the early eighties. At the time, the challenge to the regime was mounting and alternative movements were becoming increasingly popular in the westernmost of the Yugoslav republics.

From Ljubljana came strong protests against the criminalisation of homosexuality, still present in some other republics of the Federation, and against the repression of homosexuals in Romania and the communist regimes in general. Slovenia asked to overcome the taboo and to start from the schools to explain that love between people of the same sex was not a deviation or a disease, but a legitimate feeling. That was the time when Slovenian society appeared liberal and urban to the national and international public. Back then, respect for human rights seemed to take precedence over moralism and religious heritage.

Soon, priorities would change. With the first democratic elections of 1990, building the nation-state became the goal, and especially leaving the boiling Yugoslav pot paying the lowest price possible. From that moment on, the debates on human rights, minorities, and the LGBT community faded into the background. Moreover, in that atmosphere of nationalist euphoria, it was possible to delete 25,000 people from the other republics of the Federation from the registers of residents, without anyone protesting.


It was in 1995 that the LGBT community made itself heard again with more force, with a petition addressed to the government to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. The following year, in the hall of the Ljubljana castle, weddings were staged between gay and lesbian couples. Since then, requests have followed for the matter of same-sex unions to be settled.

The first law on the subject, commissioned by the center-right government, was passed in June 2005. The law, a response to movements demanding far more radical change, was targeted by the criticism of the LGBT community and the more liberal fringes of society. At that point, however, the debate on the rights of same-sex couples had been started.

In 2011, it seemed almost done. The Chamber of State approved the new Family Code, granting LGBT couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. The only exception was the adoption of children, as members of same-sex couples were only allowed to adopt their partner's biological child. Initially, the limitation was not there, but without that change such an advanced provision would have split the center-left too. The law was passed by a few votes and sparked an uproar. Opponents said it was unacceptable to equate marriage between man and woman with one between two people of the same sex. Significantly, the debate that accompanied the approval of the new Family Code featured chilling moments of squalor and manifest homophobia.

In the end, the "civil society", with the support of the Church and center-right parties, promoted a referendum. With a meagre 30% turnout, in the absence of a quorum to validate the consultation, the law was repealed with 55% of the votes. Back to square one.

Liberals and Europeans

Between the economic crisis, governments falling, and early elections, the discussion on the reform of the Family Code continued underground. It was not a priority of the current government either. Premier Miro Cerar, with his party created from scratch just before the last elections, would have preferred to stay away from the subject. When he knocked at the doors of ALDE, the coalition of liberal parties of the European Union, however, he was cornered. They made him understand that this was a virtually indispensable condition for being part of the European liberal family.

Anyway, while the government tinkered, the United Left – the new radical formation, for the first time in parliament last year – beat the executive to presenting a series of amendments to the existing Family Code, equating in all respects heterosexual and same-sex couples. This time, the law was approved by a large majority – 51 votes in favor, 28 against. The debate in parliament was calm.

The challenge was less on marriage than on adoption. The government has tried to point out that there is no right to adoption for same-sex couples, but simply the right to access a long, complicated procedure. In the country, about a dozen children are adopted each year, against the current 572 requests.


Outside the parliament, thousands of people demonstrated against the law under the motto: "It is about children". The protest was organized by the promoters of the referendum of four years ago. In seven days, they needed to collect 2,500 signatures to start the process of calling for consultation. They have submitted more than 80,000, over twice the amount needed to seek a referendum. The ball is now back to the parliament.

It is possible that the Speaker of the House will consult the Constitutional Court on the admissibility of the question. Years ago, the courts allowed a similar consultation, but now the rules of the game have changed. Referenda concerning human rights are not admitted. It remains to be seen how judges will behave. For now, opinions are split. The LGBT community looks with hope at the Constitutional Court as well as to the new regulations, now requiring that in order to repeal the law it is not enough to win the consultation, but dissenting votes must exceed the 20% of all those entitled to vote. The war is not yet won.

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