Hovering on the brink of closer ties with the European Union, Georgia wants to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
When Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili last week proposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, it seemed that he had picked Georgia's biggest non-issue ever. In this predominantly Christian, conservative South-Caucasus country, the topic is not a hot one. The LGBT community is largely closeted, and LGBT-rights discussions usually get drubbed out.
But in Georgia, gay marriage is so much more than just gay marriage. It is geopolitics.
As it moves toward signing an association agreement with the European Union this June, Georgia is trying to make its legal environment more EU-compatible. As part of the change, an anti-discrimination bill is intended that would protect the oft-violated civil-rights of LGBT Georgians.
Gharibashvili’s move is largely meant to appease the most conservative and less EU-versed Georgian voters, who view the European Union as synonymous with gay marriage. Georgian law already defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but Gharibashvili argues that the constitutional ban on gay marriage will help prevent “speculations” about the anti-discrimination law and about EU association in general.
So, Georgia could end up protecting gay rights and banning gay marriage simultaneously. But the government sees no irony.
European and Georgian officials fear that this subject could become a key impediment to Georgia’s path to the EU, particularly if Russia tries to foil the deal. In Armenia and Ukraine, discussions about warmer ties with the EU have included propaganda campaigns that argue that a choice for the EU is a choice for homosexuality.
But even though Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II now has given the official nod to EU ties, not all Georgians are convinced.
Stories and opinion pieces appear once in a while in tabloids suggesting that the association agreement will contain some fine print about gay marriage. Whether or not a constitutional ban will change those misconceptions remains to be seen.