BUCHAREST, Romania — A referendum aimed at putting same-sex marriage further out of reach in Romania was invalidated Sunday after a quick tally showed too few voters cast ballots, election officials said.
The weekend vote on a constitutional amendment that would have changed the definition of family to make marriage a union between a man and a woman instead of between "spouses" required voter turnout of at least 30 percent for the result to stand.
Election officials said after polls closed that only 20.41 of eligible voters participated. The turnout threshold never was close to being reached all day, a trend that gay rights group Accept said showed citizens "want a Romania based upon democratic values."
"We have shown that we cannot be fooled by a political agenda that urges us to hate and polarize society," the group said in a statement before the turnout number was final.
Marriage statutes already prohibit same-sex marriage in Romania. The conservative Coalition for Family spearheaded the referendum with a signature petition, arguing that any ambiguity in the constitution needed to be eliminated.
The group conceded defeat before the overall turnout from two days of balloting was announced late Sunday.
"Next time, we'll succeed," Coalition for Family spokesman Mihai Gheorghiu said. "Let's be happy for this day. The Christian vote exists."
Earlier in the day, the group issued a statement blaming the lack of enthusiasm among voters on what it called "a massive disinformation campaign" by the media, politicians and local governments.
It alleged "a general boycott by all political parties" that was "primarily directed against the Christians of Romania."
The influential Romanian Orthodox Church backed the amendment. Concerned about the low turnout, Patriarch Daniel urged Romanians earlier Sunday to "vote before it's too late."
"We call on you to vote, to have this honor, to demonstrate this freedom and right," he was quoted as saying in a statement on the news website of the Romanian church.
Opponents argued the new constitutional language could make LGBT people feel more like second-class citizens and make other non-traditional families targets of discrimination.
In the village of Adunati-Copaceni, south of Bucharest, the capital, only 62 people had voted by midmorning out of a total electorate of 1,147.
Priests leading services at St. Mary's Church encouraged the congregation to vote. Retired farmer Ana Buturgianu, 69, said she'd heed the advice, as did Andrei Aurelian, a 53-year-old cashier.
"The vote is for us and for our children. It's normal to have a man and a woman, not two men together," Aurelian said.
But Bucharest resident Marin Soare, 50, who was cycling through the village Sunday, boycotted the referendum, calling it "a waste of money."
"We already have traditional families in Romania and have done so for 2,000 years," he said. "And there's always been same-sex relationships."