Romanian election officials say a referendum asking to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage has failed due to low voter turnout.
The country's election commission said that just 20.4 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots by the time polls closed on October 7, the second day of voting. That was well below the 30 percent threshold required by law.
The proposed amendment would change the constitutional definition of marriage from a union of "spouses," to one exclusively of a man and a woman to prevent any attempt to legalize same-sex marriage through legislation in the future.
A conservative group initiated the two-day referendum, and the influential Romanian Orthodox Church and all but one parliamentary party backed the change.
"We call on you to vote, to have this honor, to demonstrate this freedom and right," Patriarch Daniel was quoted as saying in a statement on the news website of the Romanian church.
The measure had passed the country's two chambers of parliament already, making the referendum vote the final stage in the amendment process.
It was not immediately clear whether conservative organizations would make another try at a referendum or give up.
Conservative Romania is one of the few members of the European Union to ban marriage or civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) minority is widespread.
Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), was one of the first to cast a vote early on October 6.
"The time has come to decide ourselves how we want to live in our country," he said, adding that a "yes" vote was "absolutely not a vote against a minority."
Before the vote, the 55-year-old Dragnea told television station Romania TV that "many fear” what has happened "in other countries" in allowing same-sex marriage.
AFP quoted a retired Bucharest resident as saying, "If we allow gay people to marry, tomorrow they will be asking to adopt children and that would be unacceptable."
Opponents say the new constitutional language is an attempt to make LGBT people feel more like second-class citizens and warned that approval would push the country onto a populist, authoritarian track.
The government's decision to press ahead with the referendum alarmed Brussels, with the EU Commission's deputy chief, Frans Timmermans, reminding Bucharest of its human rights commitments.
"I don't want family values to be transformed into arguments that encourage the darkest demons and hatred against sexual minorities," he said.
The lower house of parliament voted in favor last year and the Senate followed in September, making the referendum the last needed stage.