(Zagreb’s Roman Catholic cathedral, 23 October 2006/Jajaniseva)

Croats voted overwhelmingly in favour of defining marriage in the constitution as a “union of man and woman” on Sunday, a move initiated by Roman Catholic groups but criticised by opponents as discrimination against homosexuals.

Almost 66 percent of those who voted in the referendum in the new European Union member endorsed the initiative, launched by the Catholic group “In the Name of the Family”, according to preliminary results on Sunday night. Turnout was 37 percent.

The group had gathered over 740,000 signatures in support of the referendum, forcing parliament to call the vote.

The Social Democrat-led government disagreed with the referendum’s demand, but the outcome was no surprise in a morally conservative country where 90 percent of the population of 4.4 million say they are Catholic.

The Church wholeheartedly backed the initiative, which sought to define marriage in the constitution rather than law so that its status can only be changed by a two-thirds majority in parliament.