Croatians have voted to outlaw same-sex marriage in a referendum sought by a Church-backed group but strongly opposed by rights groups, partial results showed.

A total of 64.84 percent of voters said "yes" in Sunday's vote to the question of whether they wanted to amend the constitution to include a definition of marriage as a "union between a woman and a man".

A total of 34.56 percent of voters in the staunchly Catholic country said "no".

The partial results, released by the electoral commission, were from around one-third of polling stations.

Passions ran high ahead of the vote, with the Church-backed "yes" camp citing the defence of traditional family values, and their opponents accusing them of discrimination against gays.

But three hours before voting ended, the turnout was a rather low 26.75 percent, the electoral commission said.

Under Croatian law, a referendum does not require a majority voter turnout to be valid.

The centre-left government, rights activists and prominent public figures have all spoken out against the measure.

But the recent unveiling of a government bill enabling gay couples to register as "life partners" sparked fears among conservatives in Croatia - which joined the EU in July - that same-sex marriage would be next.

'In the Name of Family' 

"I'm a father of three children and that explains everything," Krunoslav Knezevic told the AFP news agency in reference to his "yes" vote.

"Marriage is a union of a woman and a man designed so that children are born in it. I'm not certain that a same-sex couple can have children in a natural way," he added ironically.

In May, a Church-backed group called "In the Name of the Family" collected almost 700,000 signatures seeking a nationwide vote on the definition of marriage.

Zoran Milanovic, Croatia's prime minister, labelled the vote "sad and senseless" and voiced hope it was the last vote on such an issue.

The vote's opponents denounced the referendum as discriminatory and warned it could pave the way for other conservative initiatives targeting minorities or on issues such as abortion.

"Today homosexuals are on the agenda, tomorrow it will be those who have bicycles, then people with dogs, Jews, we know how it goes," warned Ilija Desnica, a man in his 60s who voted "no".

"This is the entry of fascism through the back door."

Source: AFP