[JURIST] Croatian voters passed a referendum on Sunday proposing to ban same-sex marriages by defining marriage in Croatia's constitution [text] as a union between a man and a woman. The referendum came [BBC report] as a result of a petition circulated by a Catholic group which garnered over 700,000 signatures. Croatia's population of 4.4 million people is about 90 percent Catholic, and the church strongly supported the measure. The referendum, supported by two-thirds of the nation's parliament and almost two-thirds of the voters, has divided Croatia. The Croatian President Ivo Josipovic [official website] expressed disappointment with the result, and the Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic [official website] and several human rights groups had urged the public to vote against the changes to the constitution, stating that it infringed upon human rights. Police heavily monitored a large demonstration on Saturday staged [AFP report] by protesters who had opposed the ban.
Croatia joined [JURIST report] the European Union (EU) [official website] in July 2013. The EU allows each member state to make its own rules concerning same sex unions. In early November the Croatian parliament voted [JURIST report] to hold the referendum with a vote of 104 to 13 in favor. In September, representatives from Croatia attended [JURIST report] the first UN ministerial meeting on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Representatives from the US, France, Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan, New Zealand and the EU, along with executive directors of Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [advocacy websites] were also present. LGBT individuals have gained increased rights globally in the last decade, but many still face discrimination and criminal punishment throughout the world.