Slovenia court allows referendum on halting gay marriage

Ljubljana (AFP) - Slovenia's Constitutional Court on Thursday gave the go-ahead for a referendum on whether to implement legislation allowing gay marriage, an issue that has divided the central European nation.

The court's decision comes after parliament in March adopted a bill giving same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

A conservative group close to the centre-right opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) and backed by the Catholic Church had contested the law.

The group gathered enough signatures to trigger a referendum.

But Slovenia's parliament had halted the initiative in its tracks, saying it was unconstitutional given that marriage -- heterosexual or gay -- is a basic right.

The Constitutional Court on Thursday struck down parliament's bid to prevent a popular vote.

Under Slovenian law, any group that gathers 40,000 signatures within a month's time can take a motion to referendum. Slovenia's total population is estimated at around 2 million.

Should more than 20 percent of the electorate take part in the referendum, and a majority of them vote against the law, it will eventually be scrapped.