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Explainer: How does Hungary's new law affect LGBT+ rights?

Hungary has passed a bill that bans sharing content that “promotes” being gay to children and teenagers.

An LGBT+ rights demonstration outside the Hungarian parliament building on 14 June
An LGBT+ rights demonstration outside the Hungarian parliament building on 14 June
Image: Szilard Koszticsak/PA Images

LGBT+ RIGHTS SAW a “dark day” in Hungary this week, a human rights group said, as the country passed a bill that bans sharing content that “promotes” being gay to children and teenagers.

Despite large protests outside the parliament on Monday, the law passed with 157 votes in favour and one against.

Several key figures in the European Union, as well as human rights organisations, have condemned the bill as a suppression of LGBT+ rights and a step backwards for equality.

How does the law impact people in Hungary?

The legal text of the bill sets out that “in order to ensure… the protection of children’s rights, pornography and content that depicts sexuality for its own purposes or that promotes deviation from gender identity, gender reassignment and homosexuality shall not be made available to persons under the age of eighteen”.

It effectively bans communicating with children and teenagers about sexuality and sexual orientation, which would include educational programmes.

The bill states that sexual education “should not be aimed at promoting gender segregation, gender reassignment or homosexuality”.

It also affects media like books and movies, and could mean that movies that depict LGBT+ people would only be shown at night and classified as 18 plus.

Amnesty International said the decision marked a “dark day for LGBTI rights and for Hungary”.

Director of Amnesty International Hungary David Vig said that thousands of people protested in Budapest “against these hateful amendments and show solidarity with the LGBTI community, but solidarity alone will not be enough”.

“The EU and its member states must take urgent steps by raising this issue at the next General Affairs Meeting in the Council and ensuring that the EU is a safe place for LGBTI people,” Vig said.

Additionally, the European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) has said that the law “directly discriminates against LGBTI people”.

What’s the political situation that led up to this?

hungary-lgbt-demonstration The protest in Budapest on Monday Source: AP/PA Images

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has led a conservative right-wing government since 2010.

A new constitution brought in by the government in 2012 restricted marriage to couples of different genders and didn’t include a guarantee of protection against anti-LGBT+ discrimination. 

In December 2020, the Hungarian parliament voted to redefine the meaning of “family” in a way that barred same-sex couples from adopting.

Same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Hungary, and the move limited adoption to married couples.

Earlier last year, a ban came into effect that prevents individuals from legally changing their gender.

They aren’t the only laws which have been branded as infringements on human rights – the country banned sleeping rough in 2018 and forbid gender studies in universities.

Then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was rebuked by opposition TDs for meeting with Orbán in Budapest at the start of 2018.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said the meeting would be seen as an “implicit endorsement by the Taoiseach and Ireland of the policies that Orbán’s government has pursued including his recent propaganda campaigns against Muslims, the EU, and also on George Soros that has verged on anti-semitism”.

What did the European Union have to say about it?

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said she is “very concerned” about the new law.

“I believe in a Europe which embraces diversity, not one which hides it from our children,” von der Leyen said.

No one should be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Similarly, EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said he “deeply regrets” the law.

Reynders tweeted that “when building their own identities, younger generations need to have access to information that reflects a modern and truly open society, in all its diversity”.

“No one should be censored,” he said.

Tweet by @Didier Reynders Source: Didier Reynders/Twitter

Similarly, Irish Green Party MEP Grace O’Sullivan condemned the move.

“On Pride Month, when we celebrate inclusivity and pride with our LGBTQIA+ friends, partners and family, it’s particularly disturbing and abhorrent that Hungary passed an anti-LGBTQIA+ law in recent days,” O’Sullivan said.

She described Hungary’s actions as a violation of fundamental human rights.

Could the EU punish Hungary?

The European Commission is assessing if the law breaches EU legislation, von der Leyen said.

At a daily news briefing, a spokesperson for the Commission said the action it takes will “depend on what we find out”.

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“We are not going to be shy, we are going to express our views or opinions,” spokesperson Dana Spinant said

“But we need to base those on a thorough reflection on what is actually in that law, and what the problems with that law would be,” she said.

“We will need to see under what aspects and on what points the legislation complies or fails to comply with EU legislation or with our principles.”

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Article 21 of the charter sets out that any discrimination based on grounds such as sex, race, ethnicity, language, religion, political opinion, disability, age or sexual orientation are prohibited.

It wouldn’t be the first time the EU retaliated against Hungary – it recently took legal action against Hungary, alongside Poland and the Czech Republic, in 2017 for refusing to take their share of refugees under a solidarity plan.

The European Commission launched infringement procedures against the three countries and the European Court of Justice ruled last year that they broke EU law.

Has anything similar happened in other EU countries?

Poland has come under pressure for anti-LGBT+ policies and attitudes that have become a major issue in recent years.

Polish citizens living in Ireland were disappointed last year at the re-election of President Andrzej Duda, candidate for the nationalist and conservative Law and Justice Party. 

A large number of towns and regions have passed resolutions that describe them as being free of “LGBT ideology”.

The European Commission rejected applications from six Polish towns last year that applied to a subsidised town-twinning programme because of their anti-LGBT+ stances.

Amnesty International has equated the Hungarian bill to laws in Russia (a non-EU country).

In 2013, Russia introduced a law banning “gay propaganda” that came with fines for citizens who shared information about “non-traditional” sexual orientations.

“Like the infamous Russian ‘propaganda law’, this new legislation will further stigmatise LGBTI people and their allies,” Amnesty’s David Vig said.

“It will expose people already facing a hostile environment to even greater discrimination.”

With reporting from AFP.

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