In recent years, the LGBTIQ community in Hungary has suffered a great deal of discrimination as a result of governmental policies.
Until recently the peak of this discriminatory wave against the above-mentioned minority group could be considered to be the law passed in December 2020 that ensures that only married couples are allowed to adopt children, apart from well-based exceptions[i]. This legislation is inseparable from the constitutional amendment passed on the same week.
However, with the newest law passed by the Hungarian parliament, which compares homosexual people to pedophiles, the harassment of the LGBTIQ community by the government has reached an unprecedented level. These discriminatory measures directly and indirectly violate human rights. Hence, the question of why it is the priority of the government to curtail the human rights of these communities rises.
The Fidesz government, who have been exercising power since 2010 in Hungary, have claimed themselves to be representing conservatism and “European Christian culture”[ii], and therefore, stand against liberal values such as the acceptance of the LGBTIQ community. The Fidesz government, in contrast to the previous years’ Eurocentric governance, brought a new wave of nationalism that excludes various minorities and civil rights groups who have been blamed for all of the country’s problems and accused of being “Western agents”[iii].
One of the reasons why the LGBTIQ community is constantly targeted by the government can be explained by the voter base of Fidesz. They prefer more conservative policies to European liberal values with which they have been dissatisfied in the 2000s due to the financial crisis and the absence of a rapid improvement in the standard of life. To make it clear that the Fidesz government would govern along conservative values, the parliament adopted a new constitution in 2011 that includes that “Hungary protects the institution of marriage as the union of a woman and a man” and “the basis of family is marriage”[iv].
Another reason that could explain why the LGBTIQ community is constantly under fire by the government can be found in the fact that Hungary has approached Eastern states like Russia and PM Viktor Orbán uses it as an example on the way towards a more authoritarian regime. To build a state similar to the Russian Federation, the alienation from European values and the EU itself are required.
By doing so, the government has mimicked Russian policies when it comes to the harassment of liberal values. They have also built a higher level of national independence, where any kind of foreign interference or values are not welcome and national sovereignty and interests are propagated in contrast to European or “Western” values.
NGOs that advocate civil and human rights and liberal democracy are viewed as one of the main watchdogs over the government and hence, an obstacle to create a more authoritarian regime. As the government curtails the rights these organisations are fighting for, most NGOs in Hungary generally contradict governmental policies. Therefore, these organisations are depicted as “Western and liberal agents” who are “harmful to the country and Christian values”[v] in the communication of the government.
Moreover, in 2017 the parliament adopted a law, known as “Lex-NGO” that stated that NGOs that receive more than €20,000 annually, must be registered as “foreign-funded organisations”. Even though this law has been ruled to be illegal by the EU Court, and hence the Hungarian government has to amend it, it has still caused the stigmatisation of NGOs in Hungary[vi].
These measures carry great importance for several reasons. Firstly, they curtail civil rights and therefore decrease rule of law making it easier for the government to govern without transparency. Secondly, it serves as a great opportunity to get legitimacy from the public by depicting liberal individuals and organisations as the “enemy” against whom they have to protect the nation. Thirdly, it is important to note that LGBTIQ rights are immensely included in the civil rights organisations’ work and hence, they compose another factor against which the government “has to protect the children and families”.
In this regard the publication of the first inclusive storybook in September 2020 needs to be mentioned. The storybook is unique because it includes characters from various social backgrounds who are usually left out from traditional children’s book. The book generated heated debates, PM Viktor Orbán said in an interview that “they (referring to homosexuals) should leave our children alone”[vii].
Moreover, the Hungarian Consumer Protection Authority ruled that the creators of the book should have warned the readers that they include “patterns of behaviour deviating from traditional gender roles”[viii]. This case strengthens Fidesz’s role as a protector of “traditional European values” and children against the “deviants” and “malicious foreign interference”.
Attacks against the LGBTIQ community do not only come in indirect forms and polite warnings. Several media outlets close to the government have raised their voices against the community, sometimes claiming that the children raised by same-sex couples are in ideological danger by their genderless upbringing or directly linking homosexuality to pedophilia. The latter was also claimed by the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly who thinks it is normal that “homosexuals do not consider themselves equal to heterosexual members of the society”[ix].
Furthermore, in 2012 a bill was proposed by an MP of the Jobbik party that included the motion to imprison people with “deviant behaviour”[x]. Although the bill failed to pass the Hungarian Parliament at the time, a similar situation emerged when the government recently included the concept of gender transition and genderless upbringing in a bill proposed to punish pedophilia harsher.
This kind of communication by various government individuals and agencies has instigated the public to fear liberal values and grew further distrust towards them. This feeling has led to the fact that the majority of the public became misled of what LGBTIQ means in reality and the members of the community are seen as outsiders, even “deviants” who harm traditional values and children and NGOs are seen as their protectors.
Moreover, December 2020 brought the 9th amendment of the current constitution. The constitution now includes that “the mother is a woman; the father is a man”[xi]. This amendment constitutionally rules out the possibility of legally creating a family for same-sex couples. In addition, the same period produced a law that de-facto alienates these couples to adopt children by stating that only married couples can carry out adoption. In some cases exceptions can be made if the Minister for Family Affairs personally gives her permission to adoption[xii].
However, Háttér Society with other civil rights groups, including the Coalition on the Rights of the Child of UNICEF, protested against the law claiming that it not only discriminates against the LGBTIQ community, but also hurts the interests of children in foster homes. Based on the findings of the ombudsman, this law leads to the fact that children will be subjected to mental and physical abuse for longer time in the foster homes instead of living in a caring family. This claim by Háttér Society shows the contradiction of the policy that claims to target “deviant behaviour” and “protect children”.
While it stops LGBTIQ people from leading the life they wish, which is already a violation of human rights as far as the UDHR is concerned, it also indirectly targets children in foster care. Moreover, several studies have been carried out which disprove the belief that being brought up by same-sex couple harms the children’s mental health and influences their sexuality[xiii]. A recent study, for example, carried out by Republikon Institute has proved that 69-85% of the EU’s population had discovered their LGBTIQ identity before they turned 18 years old which shows that LGBTIQ identity does not develop as a result of external influence of NGOs, parents or TV shows[xiv].
Studying the issue of human rights in certain countries also brings the question of how the issue could be faced and what the international community can do to protect the people whose rights have been violated.
When NGOs and human rights organisations accuse the government of violation of LGBTIQ rights, they usually refer to an international human rights treaty or convention. One of the most prominent one is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which is a UN Resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. The Declaration is the basis of further human rights treaties which are legally binding and of which most have been ratified by Hungary over the years[xv].
It is important to note that when this document was written, in 1948, LGBTIQ rights were practically non-existent, hence there are no paragraphs that specifically protect their rights. This loophole is evident in Article 16 where they refer to “men and women” as the founders of family[xvi]. Even in the most liberal member states of the UN, being homosexual was socially unacceptable, and often illegal at that time.
Despite this problem, when we talk about LGBTIQ rights, or the rights of any minority group, we usually refer to the UDHR because it is the foundation of every treaty and document that protects human rights. By examining the document, we can find several points that are violated by the Hungarian government with the discriminatory measures against the LGBTIQ community.
Articles 1, 2 and 3 state that “everyone is born equal in dignity and rights” and “has the right to liberty” “without distinction of any kind, such as sex”. In this case, the LGBTIQ rights have been violated for example when transgender people have to explain to the authorities why their appearance do not match their photo on their identity card, cannot form a family or even when the Speaker of the Parliament talks about homosexuals in a degrading way.
Article 7 states that everyone is “entitled to equal protection against any discrimination” of the UDHR which means that the LGBTIQ community should be protected against the discrimination of the Hungarian government. As far as the adoption law and new constitution amendment are concerned, Article 12 states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family (…) nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation”. Moreover, Article 22 clearly states that everyone has the right of “free development of his personality” which can be argued in favour of pursuing every right of the LGBTIQ community[xvii].
In addition, in 2016, Hungary applied for a seat in the Human Rights Council for the period 2017-2019. In the application, the representative of Hungary assured the General Assembly of Hungary’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. Also in the application Hungary voluntarily pledged to support civil rights organisations that advocate human rights and democracy, to protect human dignity, including those groups that are more vulnerable and belong to minority[xviii]. These voluntary pledges go against the existing domestic situation of various minority groups, such as refugees or the LGBTIQ community as well as most actors of the civil society, who have been harassed since the current government came to power in 2010.
The European Convention on Human Rights is one of the many international documents that are based on the UDHR and therefore it largely correlates with the UDHR. It also includes Articles about the “right to respect for private and family life” “prohibition of discrimination”.
However, it is crucial to highlight the fact that this Convention was written in 1950, only 2 years after the UDHR, and thus, LGBTIQ rights are again excluded. The Article about “right to marriage” explicitly mentions “men and women” and “according to the national laws” that provides the Hungarian government a safety net[xix].
In order to serve as a more efficient tool of fighting against human rights violations, these international documents should be revised to resonate more with contemporary issues, new articles should be added, while others should be explained more accurately.
To achieve the annulment of the discriminatory policies, Háttér Society has turned to the Hungarian Constitutional Court several times. Although sometimes they win smaller battles, for instance when they achieved that it is against the Constitution to prohibit gender recognition retroactively[xx], they cannot stop the discrimination from the government.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International Hungary, Budapest Pride and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, among numerous human rights NGOs, have also raised concerns about the LGBTIQ situation in Hungary. They have published reports, campaigned, written letters to high-ranking officials and agencies of the EU, turned to Court to protect human rights in Hungary. Similarly to Háttér Society, they indeed have won smaller battles but the laws are still in place discriminating against hundreds of people in Hungary and curtailing human rights.
Overall, today’s discrimination is the result discriminatory policies over the years and has led to the de-facto prohibition of same-sex couples to adopt children and thus have been denied their human right of becoming a “family”. Moreover, the bill proposed by the government that links homosexuality to paedophilia spreads serious misinformation and “attacks their reputation” is also violation of basic human right according to the UDHR.
NGOs have been constantly fighting against the harassment, but the government’s discriminatory measures and the lack of clarity in international human rights treaties as well as the protection of state sovereignty are still determining forces. It is important to bear in mind that the constant attacks on the LGBTIQ community are part of a larger battle which targets civil and human rights organisations and liberal values.
[i] Euronews, AFP. (2020, December 15). Hungarian parliament adopts anti-Lgbt laws including de facto ban on adoption by same-sex couples. Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/15/hungarian-parliament-adopts-anti-lgbt-laws-including-de-facto-ban-on-adoption-by-same-sex-.
[iii] Nuñez-Mietz, F. G. (2019). Resisting human rights through securitization: Russia and Hungary against LGBT rights. Journal of Human Rights, 18(5), 543–563. https://doi.org/10.1080/14754835.2019.1647100
[v] Nuñez-Mietz, F. G. (2019). Resisting human rights through securitization: Russia and Hungary against LGBT rights. Journal of Human Rights, 18(5), 543–563. https://doi.org/10.1080/14754835.2019.1647100
[vi] Gall, L. (2021, April 23). Hungary’s Scrapping of NGO Law Insufficient to Protect Civil Society. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/23/hungarys-scrapping-ngo-law-insufficient-protect-civil-society.
[viii] Hungarian Consumer Protection Authority slams book with LGBTQI characters. Háttér Society. (2021, February 9). https://en.hatter.hu/news/hungarian-consumer-protection-authority-slams-book-with-lgbtqi-characters.
[ix] Fekete Lyuk. (2019, May 16). Kövér László elmondta, szerinte milyen “a normális homoszexuális”. Magyar Narancs. https://magyarnarancs.hu/feketelyuk/kover-laszlo-elmondta-szerinte-milyen-a-normalis-homoszexualis-119769.
[x] Nuñez-Mietz, F. G. (2019). Resisting human rights through securitization: Russia and Hungary against LGBT rights. Journal of Human Rights, 18(5), 543–563. https://doi.org/10.1080/14754835.2019.1647100
[xii] Euronews, AFP. (2020, December 15). Hungarian parliament adopts anti-Lgbt laws including de facto ban on adoption by same-sex couples. Euronews. https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/15/hungarian-parliament-adopts-anti-lgbt-laws-including-de-facto-ban-on-adoption-by-same-sex-.
[xiii] Még hatályba sem lépett az új törvény, máris kitolnak a meleg örökbefogadókkal. Háttér Társaság. (2021, February 24). https://hatter.hu/hirek/meg-hatalyba-sem-lepett-az-uj-torveny-maris-kitolnak-a-meleg-orokbefogadokkal.
[xiv] Republikon Institute. (2021, June 14). LMBTI emberek az Európai Unióban. Republikon Intézet. http://republikon.hu/elemzesek,-kutatasok/21-06-14-lmbti.aspx.
[xv] UN Treaty Body Database. (n.d.). https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?CountryID=77&Lang=EN.
[xvi] United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
[xvii] United Nations. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
[xviii] United Nations. (2016, June 24). Letter dated 23 June 2016 from the Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations addressed to the President of the General Assembly. United Nations Official Documents. https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A%2F71%2F113.
[xix] European Convention on Human Rights. (1950). https://www.echr.coe.int/documents/convention_eng.pdf.
[xx] Hungarian Consumer Protection Authority slams book with LGBTQI characters. Háttér Society. (2021, February 9). https://en.hatter.hu/news/hungarian-consumer-protection-authority-slams-book-with-lgbtqi-characters.