A Slovenian voter takes part in a referendum on legalizing same-sex marriage Sunday.

Story highlights

More than 63% of voters reject same-sex marriage in a Slovenian referendum

The vote was called as result of opposition to a marriage equality law passed in March

The result was a victory for conservatives in this predominantly Catholic country

CNN  — 

Slovenian voters have rejected by a large margin a law that would have given same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt children, Slovenia’s government says.

Just over 63% of voters in Sunday’s referendum rejected the bill redefining marriage as a union between two consenting adults, rather than expressly between a man and a woman.

There was a relatively low rate of participation, with just over 36% of eligible voters turning out, Slovenia’s Government Communication Office said.

The defeat of the bill, which would have established full legal equality between heterosexual and same-sex marriage, was seen as a victory for conservatives backed by the Catholic Church, the dominant religious group in the former Yugoslav republic of about 2 million people.

Slovenia had passed a law in March, proposed by the opposition United Left party and supported by the government, giving same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt.

But a conservative civil society group launched a petition against the law before any same-sex couples were able to wed, and it appealed to the courts to turn the matter over to a public vote.

In a referendum in 2012, Slovenian voters had also rejected extending greater rights to same-sex couples.

Unequal treatment

Violeta Tomic, a parliament member from the United Left party, which backed the March law change, tweeted that she was saddened by the result and pointed to the influence of the Catholic Church in opposing same-sex marriage.

Amnesty Slovenia, which had campaigned in favor of same-sex marriage, tweeted a “sad face” emoticon as news broke that the law had been overturned.

“Sadly no marriage equality in Slovenia,” it tweeted. In a statement about the result on its website, it said that Slovenian law discriminates against people in same-sex relationships in more than 70 aspects of life.

The vote reflects a cultural split in the European Union, with many Western members – including Britain, France, Spain and Ireland – granting legal recognition to same-sex marriage, a move that remains contentious in the former communist countries that are more recent additions to the EU.

Slovenia joined the EU in 2004.