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Hungary: Intensified Attack on LGBT People

Parliament Should Reject Anti-LGBT Proposal; EU Commission Should Speak Out

People march with a giant rainbow flag from the parliament building in Budapest during the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade on July 6, 2019. © 2019 Attila Kisbedenek/AFP via Getty Images

(Budapest) – A Hungarian government proposal to amend the constitution to restrict adoption to married couples is designed to exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and families and is an affront to common European values, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Hungarian parliament should reject it resoundingly. And the European Commission should make clear that the government’s latest slew of legal changes is not compatible in a European Union based on tolerance and nondiscrimination.

“It seems nothing will derail this government from cruelly and pointlessly targeting one of the most marginalized groups in Hungarian society, not even soaring coronavirus infections and Covid-19 related deaths,” said Lydia Gall, senior researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “Under the pretext of combatting a misguided conception of ‘gender ideology,’ the government further restricts rights and stigmatizes thousands of Hungarian citizens.”

The government presented to parliament a number of constitutional amendments on November 10, 2020, the same day parliament had voted to extend by 90 days the state of emergency Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government declared on November 3. The ruling party, Fidesz, which has a two-thirds majority in parliament, is set to vote on the proposals within weeks. If passed, it would be the 9th of constitutional amendments since the Orban government came into power for the second time in 2010.

The bill states that only married couples will be eligible to adopt children, with the minister in charge of family policies able to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. It effectively excludes same-sex couples, single people, and unmarried different-sex couples from adopting children.

The bill includes language that stigmatizes transgender people, stating that “children have the right to their identity in line with their sex at birth” and rejecting diversity and inclusivity by mandating that children’s upbringing should be “in accordance with the values based on our homeland’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.”

The bill is the latest attack on LGBT people in Hungary. In May, the parliament, during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, banned legal gender recognition meaning transgender and intersex people in Hungary cannot legally change their gender or sex (both called “nem” in Hungarian) assigned at birth. The restriction has serious repercussions for people’s everyday lives, Human Rights Watch said. It also follows increasingly hostile anti-LGBT statements by high-ranking public officials, including Prime Minister Orban.

Children’s book “Wonderland Is For Everyone” includes characters that are gay, Roma or have a disability – sparking homophobic comments by high ranking officials, including Prime Minister Orban in October,  2020. © 2020 HRW/Lydia Gall

In September, a Hungarian children’s book was published, with new versions of well-known fairy tales, featuring members of marginalized groups, including LGBT people, Roma, and people with disabilities. It sparked a wave of homophobic attacks, with right-wing extremist politicians publicly shredding the book. Other key government officials added their voices to the hate campaign in October, and Orban, on a radio show, commented on the book, saying that the LGBT community should “leave our children alone.”

Days after the government submitted the bills to parliament, the European Commission introduced a new LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, and queer) strategy. EU funds available to member states to carry out the strategy would be linked to compliance with EU anti-discrimination law.

The vice president of the EU Commission, Vera Jourova, on November 12 stated that abuse against the LGBT community “belongs to the authoritarian playbook and has no place in the EU.” The increasingly homophobic policies of populist conservative governments in Hungary and Poland are at odds with the Commission’s proposed LGBTIQ strategy and the principles of tolerance and nondiscrimination it is designed to protect, Human Rights Watch said.

Hungary’s justice minister, Judit Varga, dismissed the strategy, calling it a “seemingly limitless ideology [being] forced on Member States” and saying that Hungary would “not accept any financial threats for protecting the traditional role of family and marriage.” The Hungarian government on November 16 blocked the adoption of the seven-year EU budget because the budget ties access to some EU funds to respect for the rule of law.

Earlier in the year, parliament blocked ratification of a regional treaty on violence against women. The Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, has established a gold standard for inclusion, recognizing everyone’s right to live free from violence, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristics.

Alongside assaults on LGBT people, the proposed government bill also seeks to amend the constitutional oversight of transparency and accountability of public trust funds. These funds are to be used for the public good. The amendment may result in channeling public funds into private hands, effectively making their use unavailable to public scrutiny.

The government submitted a separate bill to amend the electoral law, which would make it much harder for opposition parties to win elections. It would effectively require opposition parties to create joint party lists and run joint candidates to have any chance of winning an election.

“The Hungarian government’s latest efforts to cement intolerance and remove safeguards against the abuse of power should set off alarm bells in Brussels,” Gall said. “The EU Commission and other member states should strengthen scrutiny and use the EU’s systems and funds to increase respect for EU’s common democratic values and to protect marginalized populations.”

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