Slovakia, Constitutions and LGBT rights – religious motivations or political bargaining?

Annabelle Huet looks at the motivations and wider implications of European constitutions which seek to ban gay marriage.

On June 4th 2014, Slovakia became the twelfth country in Europe to enshrine an indirect ban on same-sex unions in its constitution. With the required two-thirds majority, the constitution was amended to redefine marriage as the “unique bond between a man and a woman”, thereby implicitly excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry.  This is not an isolated case in Eastern Europe, and certainly not in the world.

In December last year, Croatia entrenched a similarly restrictive definition of marriage in its constitution by popular initiative. In the same way, Romania saw a series of debates in 2013 centre on redefining marriage in both the country’s legislation and Constitution. The Constitution was not amended in the end, and after pressure from LGBT groups, neither was the law, but on the other hand, a bill introducing same-sex civil partnerships was defeated in March this year.

Only five countries in the world explicitly ban same-sex unions in their constitutions: Burundi, Honduras, Seychelles, Uganda and Zimbabwe. However, a vast majority of countries define marriage as a union between a man and a woman only, essentially restricting the right to marry to heterosexuals. Within the European Union for instance, the constitutions of Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria define marriage in such a way.

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Student protests in Venezuela: how is the government manipulating the Constitution for political ends?

The Venezuelan Constitution is ranked fifth in the world in terms of the number of rights it guarantees. Yet the use of the constitution as a political crutch only underlines the government’s failure to uphold and respect these rights, writes Annabelle Huet.

MARQUINAM

Image Credit: MARQUINAM

In February 2014 student protests against the democratic legitimacy of the Venezuelan government and high crime rates erupted in Caracas. Two months on over 40 people have died, more than 70 have reported being abused and the opposition leader has been jailed. The Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, accused the international community of conspiring to overthrow his government in an op-ed in the New York Times and qualified the actions of those inciting violence in Venezuela as “unconstitutional”. Yet it is interesting to note how the government has consistently referred to the constitution not only when denouncing the actions of the opposition but also when seeking to justify its own actions. Examining the constitution might therefore help us gain a better understanding of the dynamics of the conflict.

1. Comparative perspective

According to data collected by the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP), the Venezuelan Constitution is ranked fifth in the world in terms of the number of rights it guarantees. In total, it protects 81 of the 116 rights coded by the CCP, which is consistent with the Latin American tradition of constitutionalising rights. It also contains some features which are unusual even for a Latin American constitution, such as gender inclusive pronouns and nouns for job titles and the recognition of the right to social security for homeworkers. However, in order for rights to be fully protected, the country needs a strong and independent judiciary willing to enforce them. Unfortunately, Venezuela scores very poorly on the CCP scale for judicial independence (1 out of 6), especially when compared to other Latin American countries such as Peru (6 out of 6), Bolivia and Chile (4 out of 6).

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What can we learn from the party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”?

16th May 2014

Annabelle Huet reports on Joe Twyman’s lecture on Europe, the European Elections and the Rise of UKIP at the Constitution Unit 

751 members of the European Parliament will be elected from 28 countries between 22nd and 25th May 2014. On May 22nd Britain will vote for 73 members in total – the third highest proportion of members after Germany and France. Yet most voters are only vaguely aware of the consequences of their choice on European affairs. People and political analysts alike seem more interested in discussing the rise of UKIP, the UK’s foremost anti-establishment and Eurosceptic party, than the future of EU policy.

At the latest UCL Constitution Unit Seminar Joe Twyman, a founding director of YouGov, presented statistics that show that there is indeed a reason for this interest. This time, “the rise of UKIP” is much more striking than what has been observed during previous elections. Why? Because UKIP has gained a 10% overall rise in the polls and is currently predicted to surpass even the Conservatives next Thursday. Less than two weeks before the vote, YouGov’s polls show an estimated 31% of the electorate are intending to vote for UKIP. This would translate to 30 UKIP seats in the European Parliament, more than twice as many as they currently have. Statistics from previous cycles show a return to low levels of support for UKIP shortly after European elections took place, but this time Twyman predicts support for UKIP could well remain high until next year’s general election.

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