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Censoring Sexual Identity – Hungary bans LGBT+ Content for Minors

Homophobia in Hungary is rising, and the Fidesz government’s attitude towards and laws targeting the LGTB+ community only adds fuel to the fire. For years, the party has discriminated against LGBT+ citizens, constructing an enemy to secure votes from its voter base. In 2011, right after Fidesz’ election victory in 2010, the party rewrote the constitution, which now defines marriage as a bond between a man and a woman, thereby outlawing same-sex couples right to marry while restricting their right to adopt children. Furthermore, transgender individuals cannot receive gender recognition. A recent amendment of 2020 now also lays down that “the father is a man and mother is a woman“. 

The Child Sex Abuse Law

Recently, the Hungarian parliament passed another law targeting people belonging to the LGBT+ community. The new “Child Protection” bill is infamously called the paedophilia law by the government, as it was initially only supposed to increase sentences for paedophiles for committing sex crimes against children. However, some last-minute amendments to the bill were made that vaguely outlaw the “promotion” of LGBT+ content – whatever is meant by that. Essentially, it now also aims to ban LGBT+ content for minors under 18 by prohibiting such content in books, movies and other media outlets. In essence, that means that the government now “outlaws sharing information with under-18s that the government considers to be promoting homosexuality or gender change.” In addition, civil society organisations, that aim to raise awareness on LGBT+ issues and sexuality in schools, will be prohibited from doing so. 

The bill was not only supported by the conservative Fidesz government but also the far-right Jobbik party

The war the Hungarian government is waging against the LGBT+ community and this new law is a sad reminder of Poland’s similarly critical attitude towards members of this community – the most recent example being the declaration of so-called “LGBT-free zones” in parts of Poland. Moreover, the law stigmatises sexual minorities, conflates homosexuality with paedophilia, and, according to some critics of Orbán, resembles the controversial “gay propaganda” law that Russia introduced in 2013. 

For some, this new legislation is yet another attempt for Orbán to secure support from the conservative base ahead of the 2022 election in a predominantly catholic and rather conservative country.

The origins of the “paedophilia law”

The idea to introduce stricter laws against paedophilia came about a year ago, after the truth about why Gábor Kalota, the Hungarian Ambassador to Peru, had been recalled from Lima, came out: Kalota was involved in a child pornography network, which Hungarian authorities have initially tried to cover it up. 

After the cause for Kalota’s recall from Lima and the mild sentence Kalota received for his deeds was revealed to the public, rage sparked. In order to appease, Orbán promised to introduce tougher punishments for paedophilia. A proposal for a new law was written, which was ready in May 2021. Although it was found to be difficult to enforce and lacked accuracy in language, even the opposition, by and large, supported it. 

A few days before the vote on the new bill in parliament, however, some amendments were made, now also stating that “promoting” homosexuality would be prohibited for under 18-year-olds. The parliament’s legislative committee, where Fidesz holds a majority, quickly adopted these amendments, and the parliament passed the whole bill a few days later. 

With these new amendments, the original “paedophilia bill” now bans homosexual content from minors and prohibits gender reassignment for children under 18. Additionally, only certain state authorities can now provide sex education in schools.

NGOs across Hungary responded critically to the news about these amendments, and protests took place. 

EU criticism: To be taken with a grain of salt

As expected, the Hungarian opposition and NGOs standing up for equality and human rights strongly criticised the new law. But also some high-ranking EU politicians reached out to express their concerns, albeit initially in a rather lukewarm way. In European Commission president von der Leyen’s first reaction on Twitter, she stated that they would be “assessing if it breaches relevant EU legislation”. Almost a week later, on 23rd June 2021, she finally released another statement, strongly condemning the new law: “This Hungarian bill is a shame. It discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation & goes against the EU’s fundamental values. We will not compromise. I will use all the legal powers of @EU_Commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed.”

As a response, the Hungarian prime minister released a statement, arguing that von der Leyen’s “comments on the new Hungarian law are shameful” and denying that it contains “discriminatory elements”, as it only applies to those under 18. Moreover, he claimed that “the Hungarian bill is based on Article 14 (3) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”, alleging that it is in accordance with fundamental rights of the EU – although this is up to Orbán’s very loose interpretation of the Article.

In addition to the European Commission president’s strong words, 16 EU member states have already signed a statement condemning the new Hungarian law.

While criticism from high-ranking EU officials and other EU members is necessary and demonstrates EU cohesion on these issues, merely condemning the EU without following up with some action won’t do the trick.

What’s next?

The Hungarian law violates fundamental EU values, as laid down in Article 2 (TEU): “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity, and equality between women and men prevail”. Hence, legally, this would be a chance for the European Commission to initiate an Article 7 (TEU) procedure against Hungary, as it had already done in 2018.

The Commission could also launch an infringement procedure under Article 258 (TFEU) if it finds that Hungary has breached Community law.

Whatever the EU decides to do, this is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that it will not tolerate disrespecting human rights and fundamental values – and the EU should not miss it. 

Sources

About Hungary (2021): Official government statement responding to the comments of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Hungary’s child protection law, https://abouthungary.hu/news-in-brief/official-government-statement-responding-to-the-comments-of-european-commission-president-ursula-von-der-leyen-on-hungary-s-child-protection-law

Balogh, E. (2021): Orbáns Dirty Little Trick: Conflating Pedophilia with Homosexuality, Hungarian Spectrum, https://hungarianspectrum.org/2021/06/12/orbans-dirty-little-trick-conflating-pedophilia-with-homosexuality/ 

BBC (2013): Russian Duma passes law banning ‘gay propaganda’, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-22862210

BBC (2020): Hungary bans same-sex couples from adopting children, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55324417

Douglas, E. (2021): How the EU can stop Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones’, DW,  https://www.dw.com/en/how-the-eu-can-stop-polands-lgbt-free-zones/a-55042896 

EurLex (2012): CONSOLIDATED VERSION OF THE TREATY ON EUROPEAN UNION, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:2bf140bf-a3f8-4ab2-b506-fd71826e6da6.0023.02/DOC_1&format=PDF

EurLex (2008): Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:C:2008:115:FULL&from=EN

HVG (2021): Fideszes módosító a pedofiltörvényhez: tilos 18 év alattiaknak a homoszexualitás bemutatása, https://hvg.hu/itthon/20210610_fidesz_modosito_pedofiltorveny_homoszexualitas 

Korkut, U. & Fazekas, R. (2021): Hungarian anti-LGBTQ+ law is a political tactic for Orbán, The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/hungarian-anti-lgbtq-law-is-a-political-tactic-for-orban-162811

Mayer, G. (2021): Ungarns Parlament verabschiedete umstrittenes Anti-LGBTIQ-Gesetz, Der Standard, https://www.derstandard.at/story/2000127426707/ungarns-parlament-verabschiedete-umstrittenes-lgbt-gesetz

Novak, B. (2021): Hungary Adopts Child Sex Abuse Law That Also Targets L.G.B.T. Community, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/15/world/europe/hungary-child-sex-lgbtq.html 

Ranking, J. (2021): Hungary passes law banning LGBT content in schools or kids’ TV, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/15/hungary-passes-law-banning-lbgt-content-in-schools 

Twitter (2021): Ursula Von der Leyey Twitter Status 16.06.2021, https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1405224693171372035 

Twitter (2021): Ursula Von der Leyey Twitter Status 23.06.2021, https://twitter.com/vonderleyen/status/1407633592746971141

Twitter (2021): Dave Keating Twitter Status 22.06.2021, https://twitter.com/DaveKeating/status/1407427957182828553

Zsiros, S. (2021): MEPs accuse Budapest of hypocrisy over Brussels sex party scandal, Euronews, https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/02/meps-accuse-budapest-of-hypocrisy-over-brussels-sex-party-scandal 

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