As the pandemic rages, Hungary ramps up anti-LGBTQ legislation

A constitutional amendment before the Hungarian parliament would effectively prohibit LGBTQ people from adopting and draw the wrath of human rights defenders.

The draft language presented to Parliament this month by Justice Minister Judit Varga says that children “must be brought up in accordance with the values ​​based on the constitutional identity and Christian culture of our homeland”.

“The basis of family relationships is marriage,” it is sometimes said. “The mother is a woman, the father is a man.”

According to the amendment, only same-sex married couples could adopt children, with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis by Family Minister Katalin Novák. The bill effectively prohibits gay couples, singles and unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting.

It is also alleged that the government “protects the right of children to the gender identity with which they were born”.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on July 17, 2020 in Brussels.John Thys / Pool via Reuters, file

LGBTQ advocates see the proposals, which are expected to be passed next month, as yet another attack by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s right-wing party, Fidesz, which has been in power since 2010 and retains a two-thirds majority in parliament.

A new 2012 constitution defines marriage solely as the union of men and women and claims that the traditional family is “the foundation for the nation’s survival”.

Gays “can do what they want, but they cannot have their marriages recognized by the state,” Orbán said in an interview in 2016. “An apple cannot require being called a pear.”

In 2019, the spokesman for the Hungarian National Assembly, László Kövér, compared same-sex couples who wanted to adopt or marry to pedophiles. “Morally there is no difference,” said Kövér, a founding member of Fidesz and a close ally of Orbán.

Senior party officials even called for a boycott of Coca-Cola when an LGBTQ-inclusive advertising campaign was launched this summer. In May, the government lifted regulations that allow transgender and intersex people to change the sex listed in legal documents. In the new regulations, the word “nem” – which can mean either “gender” or “gender” in Hungarian – has been redefined to specifically refer to a person’s biological sex at birth, “based on primary gender characteristics and chromosomes “.

The law puts trans and intersex people “at risk of harassment, discrimination and even violence in everyday situations where they need identification documents” to Human Rights Watch.

Another new proposal would abolish the Equal Treatment Authority, an autonomous agency charged with investigating discrimination based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and other factors.

Some responsibilities would be assumed by the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, Ákos Kozma, an Orbán loyalist who has remained largely silent on LGBTQ issues. ILGA-Europe, a leading European legal group, said the sole purpose of transferring control to Kozma is to reduce the effectiveness of anti-discrimination measures.

These measures come from the fact that Hungary, like the rest of the world, is fighting a deadly pandemic. Tamás Dombos, a board member of the Hatter Society, Hungary’s oldest and largest gay rights group, said the timing was strategic.

“Now the debate is focused on this issue rather than how badly the government is dealing with the pandemic or the changes they want to make to the electoral process,” Dombos told NBC News. “They make this noise so that the opposition cannot focus on one topic.”

The ban on the legal recognition of transgender people was passed when the first wave of the pandemic hit Hungary. To date, the country of 9.8 million people has reported 157,000 cases of Covid-19 and 3,380 deaths.

“The government has used the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to gain unlimited power and is using parliament to stamp problematic public health-related bills,” said Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.

The new amendments were tabled on November 10, the day Parliament voted to extend a coronavirus-related state of emergency, which Orbán had declared a week earlier.

Dombos said they not only continue to stigmatize transgender and same-sex couples raising children, but also make contact with LGBTQ youth all but impossible.

However, the attacks on the LGBTQ community are not limited to the corridors of the Hungarian Parliament. “A fairy tale for everyone”, a Hungarian children’s book with well-known stories in which gays and other marginalized groups are represented, was hit with a flood of homophobic vitriol when it was released in September. A senior Fidesz politician tore up a copy page after page at a press conference, and a petition requesting removal from stores received more than 85,000 signatures.

Orbán spoke about the book on a Budapest radio show and told the LGBTQ community should “leave our children alone”.

“Hungarians are patient and tolerant” of homosexuality, he said. “We also tolerate provocation well, but there is a red line that cannot be crossed.”

The book’s authors, Dorottya Redai and Boldizsár Nagy, said they were bothered by Orbán’s rhetoric. “When a prime minister says that … others will think they can too,” they said Time magazine.

Dombos said while he saw no physical violence, people on the street are getting louder. “Now you get names. They call: “Hey f —- t!” It has never happened before, “he said.” You feel encouraged now. “

Last month, Redai told Time that a large poster reading “Homosexual Propaganda Publication Dangerous for Children Is Sold Here” was draped outside a bookstore titled “A Fairy Tale For All”.

Even a cosmopolitan city like Budapest, one of the first in Eastern Europe to host a Pride march, wasn’t immune. A rainbow flag was displayed in front of the town hall in August was demolished and thrown in the trash.

Előd Novák, party leader of the extremist group Mi Hazánk, paid tribute to the vandalism and declared that “the anti-family symbol has no place on the street”.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony was the first to fly the symbol of the LGBTQ community onto the city’s property.

Days earlier, nationalist football fans reportedly called themselves Aryan Greens light a pride flag in front of another municipal building and replaced it with a banner for their favorite team.

Growing homophobia has shaken the Hungarian LGBTQ community.

“The general strategy for people is to stay in the closet,” said Dombos. “More than half are not traveling for their families, and only about 20 percent are employed.” It has also pushed some to leave the country.

“The reasons people emigrate are complex, but many LGBTQ people say dealing with discrimination and homophobic language on a daily basis was an important factor,” said Dombos. “It’s pretty easy, within the E.U. – you can go to Germany or other European countries where the jobs are better and there is more acceptance.”

For those who stay and fight it is difficult under normal circumstances to oppose a party with a two-thirds majority. During the pandemic, activists cannot hold demonstrations, meet with politicians, or even hold face-to-face meetings.

“We try to collect online, but it’s just not the same,” said Dombos.

Just days after Hungary announced the latest proposed amendments, the European Union’s Executive Commission announced its first formal strategy to protect the rights of LGBTQ citizens.

“We will defend the rights of LGBT people against those who have a growing appetite to attack them from an ideological point of view,” said E.U. Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said at a press conference on November 13. “This is part of the authoritarian playbook and has no place in the E.U.”

The strategy suggests that the list of crimes for which the E.U. could set minimum penalties, including terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering. It would also protect the legal status of same-sex married couples in all member states and provide funding to compliance with the E.U. Anti-discrimination laws.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga will take part in a General Affairs Council of the EU in Brussels on January 28, 2020.Francois Lenoir / Reuters file

Justice Minister Varga condemned the strategy on twitterHungary would “accept no financial threats to the protection of the traditional role of family and marriage”.

In any case, the guidelines are not binding on the member countries. When dozens of Polish cities declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”, the Commission was able to refuse half a dozen cities very little funding.

Orbán forged ideological ties with Poland by refusing what he called E.U. Agenda. At a commemoration during World War I in August, Orbán urged Central Europe to unite around its Christian roots.

“Western Europe has given up a Christian Europe,” he warned, “and is instead experimenting with an ungodly cosmos, rainbow families, migration and open societies.”

So far, Hungary has vetoed human rights pressure from the European Union against E.U. Legislation. Last week, Hungary and Poland joined forces to veto the European Union’s trillion euro budget and coronavirus recovery package as access comes with countries’ compliance to the rule of law and European values.

Orbán previously vetoed the ratification of an E.U. Violence Against Women Treaty and Agreement to Prevent Discrimination against LGBTQ People.

According to Dombos, the prime minister enjoys the political theater and “likes the idea that he is shaping the EU”.

Fidesz actually started out as a progressive, youth-oriented party in the late 1980s, Dombos added, but then the political landscape changed and the party filled the vacuum in the right-wing space.

“They became more and more extreme, with statements not only about LGBT people, but also about the homeless, Roma, Jews, migrants and asylum seekers,” said Dombos. “Their strategy is to find an enemy, create a campaign and pass a law, and then tell us how they saved us from disaster.”

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