Slovenians on Sunday rejected a law that would have let homosexuals adopt their partners' children, preliminary results of a referendum on the issue showed.

The previous parliament, dominated by a centre-left coalition, included the right in a family law passed in June 2011.

But the Civil Initiative for Family and Children's Rights, a conservative group, opposed the change and forced a national referendum.

Preliminary results released by the state electoral committee on Sunday showed that 54.8 percent of voters had rejected the law, while 45.2 percent had supported it.

I'm sad that the law was rejected. I have lived in a lesbian relationship for 11 years but the child of my partner still cannot inherit after me, and what is the worst is that they could take the child away from me if anything were to happen to my partner, Daliborka Lasic, a 39-year-old cook, told Reuters.

I know that such a liberal law will never be passed by the new government, she added.

Although the law would not have allowed homosexual couples to adopt children from a third party, conservative groups, backed by the Roman Catholic Church, wanted it annulled.

The referendum result is legally binding and prevents the enforcement of the law. The government is not allowed to pass a similar law for at least one year.

I congratulate all who were against the law. I am sure citizens do not want to have children educated at school about how to become homosexuals, Ales Primc, head of the civil group which initiated the referendum, told reporters.

The small Adriatic country which joined the European Union in 2004 is relatively tolerant of homosexual couples, though homophobic attacks do occur from time to time.

Last year, a court sentenced three Slovenians to up to seven months in jail for attacking a gay rights activist in Ljubljana in 2009. Homosexuals have been able to formally register their relationships since 2006.

The new centre-right government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa took over last month following a snap general election in December. It did not participate in the referendum campaign because coalition parties were divided on the issue.

Like Slovenia, a number of other EU countries allow homosexual couples to register their relationships. But only a few allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

(Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Andrew Osborn)