The results of a Russian referendum vote to approve changes to the Constitution of Russia have been announed. The Central Election Commission of Russia processed 100% of the votes and announced the preliminary results. According to the head of the commission, Ella Pamfilova, the preliminary data shows that the turnout was 67.97% of citizens with voting rights. Of these, 77.92% supported the amendments to the Constitution, 21.27% did not support them. After the results are finalized, amendments to the Constitution will enter into force and will be immediately published.
Some of the amendments to the Constitution touch upon purely political issues – the structure of government bodies and the nature of the influence of the Russian President on them. A lot has been reported regarding the so-called “nullification” of the number of presidential terms: according to the amendments, former presidents, including Vladimir Putin, will be able to be re-elected (but no more than twice).
But there are other changes – those concerning values. They relate to the family, marriage and the sovereignty of the country.
The new version of the Constitution proclaims the obligation of the state not only to protect the family, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood (that already was part of the Constitution before), but also to protect the “institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman” (Article 72). In addition, one of the new norms obliges the Government of the Russian Federation to pursue a unified policy in the country in the field of “supporting, strengthening and protecting the family, preserving traditional family values” (Article 114).
These changes predictably provoked angry reactions from the international and Russian LGBT lobbies, who saw them as “homophobic” and (probably not without reason) decided that this would prevent them from seeking legalization of same-sex “marriage” in Russia. Incidentally, shortly before the vote, YouTube, showing its usual disrespect for freedom of speech and belief these days, blocked an ad that called for supporting the amendments and spoke about the right of every child to a natural family – to a father and mother. This was inevitably classified by the digital prophet of the new normalcy as “homophobic” in itself.
In addition, another new norm of the Constitution will come into force, aimed at protecting the sovereignty of Russia. It reads: “Decisions of inter-governmental bodies adopted on the basis of the provisions of international treaties of the Russian Federation in the interpretation, contrary to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, shall not be enforced in the Russian Federation” (Article 79).
This provision can also be a serious tool for protecting the natural family and parental rights. Thanks to this norm, Russia will be able, provided it has enough political will for it, to more confidently reject attempts by international bodies to impose on the country the legalization of same-sex unions and radical anti-family ideologies.
It should be noted that the content of this rule, in itself, is not something new for the Russian legal system. The Constitution has already explicitly stated that it “shall have the supreme juridical force” in Russia (Article 15). And in 2015, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation ruled that if the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights are contrary to the Russian Constitution, their execution may be refused.
Finally, another new norm speaks of Russia, “united by a thousand-year history, preserving the memory of our ancestors, who transmitted to us ideals and faith in God, as well as the continuity of the Russian statehood.” After many decades of state atheism and open godlessness, even such a brief and general mention of God in the fundamental law of the country looks symbolic as a kind of “return to the roots.”
While positively evaluating the above changes, pro-family civil society organizations, however, are not completely satisfied with the ‘family’ side of the new version of the Constitution. They believe that more serious constitutional protection of the family and the rights of parents, as well as human life, is necessary.
Pavel Parfentiev, chairman of the Russian NGO For Family Rights, says:
Unfortunately, from a legal point of view, the new provisions are still not sufficient. We know from the experience of other countries that the mention of marriage between a man and a woman in the Constitution, unfortunately, does not exclude the legal recognition of other forms of same-sex unions, such as civil partnerships. The fundamental rights of parents, which, alas, are often violated today, have not received proper constitutional protection. The necessity to protect human life from the moment of conception until natural death is still not reflected in the Constitution. All this suggests that our work in this direction is far from being complete. We wouldn’t stop here.
Pro-family advocates have noted that there was an attempt to introduce a dangerous provision into the Constitution declaring children “the asset of the Russian Federation”, that is, in fact, the property of the state. Thanks to the serious efforts of the public, including For Family Rights, this text was not included in the final version of the amendments. It was replaced by another declaration, according to which “children are the most important priority of the state policy of Russia” (Article 67.1).
The deputy speaker of the State Duma (lower Chamber of the Russian Parliament), Pyotr Tolstoy, proposed his own version of this phrase, according to which “family and children” should be declared a priority of state policy. However, to the outrage of many, under technical pretexts this version was not even put to a vote in the Parliament.
Pro-family advocates also have doubts about the provision, saying that the state establishes “uniform legal foundations … for the system of upbringing” (Article 71) and “creates the conditions for the worthy upbringing of children in the family” (Article 72). According to them, anti-family lobbyists may try to use these provisions to justify interference in the internal life of the family. They also criticize the norm according to which “the state, ensuring the priority of family upbringing, assumes the responsibilities of parents in relation to children left without care” (Article 67.1).
Nevertheless, the amendments adopted give them serious hopes. Parfentiev notes: “For many years we have sought to include in the legislation the language on the protection of traditional family values. Now this is stated in the Constitution of Russia. ”
The booklet on amendments to the Constitution, published and distributed by the Russian Central Election Commission, gave the first place to the amendments related to family values.
This is no coincidence. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to large families on June 1, shortly before the vote, said:
The mission of motherhood and fatherhood, and this is exactly a mission, is one of the noblest. It is a source of true happiness. Parenthood is a priceless contribution to preserving Russia’s traditional foundations and moral principles, which are love, strong family ties and the continuity of generations. Just as the history of a family is part of the history of the country, a feeling of pride for one’s family generates pride for our entire enormous homeland.
Time has proved that a large and friendly family can reliably support every person, society, and the state as a whole. This is what helps us reach our goals and overcome any trials and tribulations. “
And then he added: “It is no accident that during the discussion on the amendments to the Russian Constitution, protection and support of the family were among the most frequent proposals of our citizens.
According to the Constitution of the Russian Federation itself, it was possible to make amendments to it, without a national vote. A qualified majority in the Parliament (votes of at least three-fourths of the members of the Federation Council and at least two-thirds of the deputies of the State Duma), as well as the approval of at least two-thirds of the regional parliaments, were enough for that. Therefore, theoretically, the new Constitution could come into force in March.
Nevertheless, Russian authorities decided to hold an all-Russia vote. Different opinions are expressed on why such a decision was made. Some believe that this is simply a desire to follow a more democratic procedure; others are convinced that the moral weight of Russian legislators today is insufficient to make changes in the structure of public authority, approved only by them, look quite legitimate.
There is no doubt about one thing: urging citizens to vote for the proposed amendments to the Constitution, the Russian authorities focused on protecting the family and family values.
And it leads us to an obvious conclusion: it is possible enough that the Russian authorities doubt that their people are so unconditionally supportive of Vladimir Putin and the ruling elite. But about the fact that most Russians unconditionally support the natural family, marriage between a man and a woman and traditional family values, they have no doubt.