Romania's referendum threatens children's rights

A coalition of conservative and anti-LGBT hate groups are trying to use children’s rights as an excuse to redefine the family in Romania, in a way which will inevitably run counter to children’s best interests

For several years American NGOs like Liberty Counsel and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have openly advocated for a legal reform in Romania, including in 2010 to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Now they are campaigning to remove the gender-neutral term “spouse” from the country’s definition of the family while spuriously claiming the move is in the best interests of children.

These groups, supporting a Romanian campaign whose leadership includes individuals associated with white supremacists, have moved one step closer to their goal, with a referendum on the issue set by the Romanian government for 6 and 7 October this year.

Sadly, using children’s perceived best interests as an excuse to discriminate against and demonise their families is in line with what advocates have seen from so-called “family rights” groups at the United Nations. This approach is also reminiscent of the justifications put forward for limiting what information is available to children on certain social or political issues, potentially impacting their rights to health, education and association.

Similar rhetoric was used when the NGO Family Watch International supported a Human Rights Council resolution on “protection of the family”. These moves to paint the family, or the institution of marriage, as an abstract holder of rights, are an attempt to alter the definition of the family from being something that provides care, nurture and development to children to something much more ideologically driven. It was a move to privilege certain types of families, rather than protecting the rights of all children, whoever their parents happen to be.

ADF’s Director of EU Advocacy Sophia Kuby stated in a speech to supporters of the referendum last year that “children of course are the main reason why marriage receives special status and special support”, claiming that “Every society in history has developed the institution of marriage” to see children raised by one man and one woman.

Kuby also misquoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, claiming that it supports a “child-centered view of marriage”, when it actually states that “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family”.

Kuby’s focus on the concept of parents as two married individuals of opposite sex, to the exclusion of everything else, leads her to dismiss other types of family as inferior. Not every society has as narrow a concept of family as this though. Children all over the world grow up with single parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, same-sex couples and more, and still receive the love and support they need to flourish. Kuby and her followers would undermine the status of these real parents, to the detriment of their children, all to protect her view of what the perfect family should look like.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child never specifies the need for a family to consist of one man, one woman and their children, making it clear that all children have the same rights, regardless of who their parents happen to be.

By removing the gender-neutral term spouse, which is also present in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so-called “family rights” advocates seek to diminish the standing of certain types of families, a move that will ultimately hurt children if they are bullied and discriminated against due to arrangements they have no control over.

From a children’s rights perspective, family is first and foremost a social arrangement which provides care, nurture and development. It will never be in the best interests of children to diminish the worth of their parents’ relationships and doing so will only entrench discrimination against children whose parents do not fit the model of a “traditional” family.

Opposition groups have called for a boycott of the vote in just over two weeks time, and CRIN supports that sentiment wholeheartedly.


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