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Recently (in the last decade or so) there were quite many referendums (or are about to be held) about marriage definition. Some initiatives try to clearly define family as a union between a man and a woman while others try the opposite, to allow marriage without this constraint.

Countries that had or have a chance to have such a referendum include Romania, Australia, Slovenia, Ireland, Croatia, Georgia, Switzerland.

Question: Why were so many referendums about marriage definition initiated in the recent years?

  • Is your question more about why to have a referendum on this topic or rather about why to do this now? – Philipp Aug 28 '17 at 14:17
  • @Philipp - It is more about why so many happened recently and within a relatively small period of time. Marriage and referendums are among us for some time, so it seems interesting to know why now (so late?). – Alexei Aug 28 '17 at 14:19
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    As for the question...I don't know if there is an answer for "why now?" other than "momentum" and "the world is smaller today". It seems speculative. – user1530 Aug 28 '17 at 15:07
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    @Alexei late is a relative thing, across all countries that I've seen polling data for there's been a statistically significant, faster than linear increase in support for marriage equality since the turn of the the century. – origimbo Aug 28 '17 at 15:52
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    Until about 50 years ago a gay relationship between two men was criminal in the UK, punished with jail. Quite obvious that nobody thought about a referendum to either allow or disallow gay marriage 50 years ago. – gnasher729 Aug 28 '17 at 17:14
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Because until recently, no one thought it was an issue. Other than obvious absurdities, like Nero marrying his horse, marriage has been a man to a woman. Occasionally a man to multiple women.

Until recently, most voters would have voted against same sex marriage if asked for their opinion. For example, proposition 8 in California (in the United States) said that same sex unions were not marriages in 2008. This was in response to a court case that said that the California constitution implicitly made same sex marriage legal. Without that, there was no need for a referendum.

Until 2003 and Lawrence v. Texas, it was technically illegal to participate in certain sex acts often associated with gay partners in some places in the US. These struggles may not have had a direct effect on people in Europe, but such things often have indirect effects. People who were satisfied with their lives start wondering what would happen with a referendum in their location. Why worry about a marriage that you wouldn't be able to consummate legally?

Until comparatively recently Hollywood would only show openly gay characters for comedic relief. More modernly, movies like Brokeback Mountain have depicted gay characters in dramatic roles. We've gone from the gay subtext of the X-Men to openly gay actors appearing as gay characters. Society has moved.

Until recently, same sex marriage was primarily investigated in science fiction. There was no need to ban it. No one thought that it was a concept, much less legal. In ancient Jewish law, a marriage could be set aside because there was no issue (children). Obviously, same sex relationships are not going to result in children without outside participation (adoption; surrogacy). So with that view of marriage, same sex marriage wasn't even considered as possible. So why ban it?

Modernly, we've romanticized marriage. It's not something that one's parents would arrange to link your family to another and produce healthy children. Marriage is something that two people who love each other do to express and prove their love. Two people of the same sex can of course love each other romantically (ignoring any arguments as to whether that is natural or perverse or whatever). So from that perspective, same sex marriage is quite possible.

It is only with that possibility that it becomes an issue that could appear in a referendum. People thought they knew what marriage was. It was only modernly that it seemed it might be something else. So now people find themselves arguing over the definition.

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    +1 but this answer could be improved by mentioning the bigotry in some of the examples in OP's question. At least one of them successfully modified the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Put another way, some of the referendums are pushing a progressive agenda forward, while others are pushing in the opposite direction. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 28 '17 at 20:01
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    "no one thought it was an issue"...umm...I think lots of people thought it was an issue. They just weren't a big enough group to influence the majority – user1530 Aug 28 '17 at 21:05
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    Also, -1 to imply historical 'gay marriages' were absurd examples to discredit actual examples is just disingenuous. There's plenty of legitimate examples en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_same-sex_unions – user1530 Aug 28 '17 at 21:07
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    I think it's not just that we romanticized marriage; we've also realized that there are a LOT of rights and rules attached to being legally married wrt to parenthood, legal protections, (medical) decision power, inheritance, etc. You can be a romantic couple as much as you like, if your partner dies "your" house will go to their kids if you're not married. – Erik Aug 29 '17 at 10:25
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Gay rights are a fairly recent thing and most governments seem to favor them, it has taken time for them to be established through court precedent and policy. As countries change laws it makes the news, which brings the issue to the attention of the people in other countries.

Some places have many people who don't like gay rights. Often for religious reasons but those arguments are difficult or impossible for secular governments to accept.

A workaround is to try to use referendums to signal the will of the people without including reasons at all.

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    The other thing worth mentioning is that civil rights as a concept is fairly young. It wasn't too long ago that women and African Americans were denied their rights. The civil rights movement brought civil rights into peoples minds. Only now that the idea of civil rights is commonly accepted as positive change can a relatively small group like the LGBT community appeal to larger numbers of voters. – Braydon Aug 28 '17 at 22:32
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    More than just "women and African Americans" @Braydon. Just about any minority member was denied many civil rights in most parts of the USA (and other countries) until the 1960's. – O.M.Y. Aug 28 '17 at 22:59
  • @O.M.Y. That is true, but women's rights and African American right's are the icons of the civil rights movement. – Braydon Aug 28 '17 at 23:14

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