DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. In Romania, an effort to ban same-sex marriage has failed. This was a two day referendum that would've changed the constitution in this socially conservative country in the European Union. But not enough voters showed up over the weekend, and that invalidated any result. This is a slap in the face for the Romanian Orthodox Church, which has warned that Western liberals in the EU are forcing their values on the East. Here's Joanna Kakissis from Bucharest.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING)
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Like many churchgoers in this post-communist city, retired engineer Marius Tufis opposes same-sex marriage.
MARIUS TUFIS: I don't like man with man and woman with woman.
KAKISSIS: It's not enough for him that same-sex marriage is already banned in Romania's civil code.
TUFIS: (Speaking Romanian).
KAKISSIS: "That code can be changed," he says, "so we need something more."
Leaders of the Romanian Orthodox Church told voters that defining marriage as between a man and a woman means saving the traditional Romanian family. Archdeacon Ionut Mavrichi says it's about children.
IONUT MAVRICHI: And I think every child has the right to be raised and born in a family, like, from a mother and a father, like all the children that have ever been born.
KAKISSIS: The church strongly backed an amendment to Romania's Constitution. It was pushed by conservative activists who were advised by Liberty Counsel, a U.S. organization which opposes same-sex marriage.
VLAD VISKI: They're behind all these movements in Eastern Europe.
KAKISSIS: Vlad Viski runs MozaiQ, an LGBT-rights group in Bucharest.
VISKI: What we're witnessing is this sort of alliance between these extremist American groups and local indigenous conservative groups trying to push forward their agenda.
KAKISSIS: Twenty-year-old Alina Ercau danced with friends at a boycott party in a Bucharest club before the vote.
ALINA ERCAU: I came here because I'm a lesbian, as a matter of fact. And I don't think that we should be perceived as people that are plaguing our society. They think that we are some sort of degenerates, that we are sick. They are trying to legalize homophobia in Romania.
KAKISSIS: Communications consultant Dragos Bucurenci is bisexual. He has noticed a rise in homophobia in the weeks before the vote.
DRAGOS BUCURENCI: Ever since this started, whoever expressed any views that were pro-LGBT was fair game for haters.
KAKISSIS: He spent Sunday walking his dog Oscar at the park near Bucharest's opera house.
BUCURENCI: If this referendum doesn't pass, I will remember this day as the second-most important day in my life after 22 December 1989, when the communist regime fell.
KAKISSIS: Romania did not decriminalize homosexuality until 2001 and only then because it was a precondition for entering the European Union. Marius Tufis, the retired engineer, blames the EU for pushing liberal values on his country.
TUFIS: (Speaking Romanian).
KAKISSIS: "My daughter lives in the Netherlands now," he says, "and we fight every day over same-sex marriage."
Across town, a gay club broke out in cheers when the TV news declared the marriage referendum dead because of low turnout.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing) Come on and sing it to me, yeah.
KAKISSIS: Same-sex marriage in Romania is still illegal. But tonight, there was no change to the constitution. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Bucharest, Romania.