Human rights enforcement at the international and at the regional level is difficult, since it is mostly up to individual states to decide which rules they implement within their boundaries. Furthermore, coming up with rights that are universal in nature is a difficult task, therefore, legal documents tend to be rather general when dealing with this topic.
The field of human rights has gone through some significant changes in the past centuries, expanding in nature to involve more groups of people, grant them more rights. Such group is the LGBTQ community, whose legal recognition involved many struggles, and it still does, up to this day.
At the international arena, there have been multiple movements in favour of more progressive rights and better enforcement. These have been met with success at the European Union level, since their laws on inclusion and the expansion of these rights are becoming more and more straightforward in terms of their application. Today, the EU’s position on LGBTQ rights is clear, and it is working actively to push for these rights to be applied in their member states.
However, despite these efforts, some states are not open to such ideas; they implement their own sets of rights in the topic, which could lead to dangerous outcomes. This essay aims to discuss this issue in the light of Hungarian domestic politics, where the government does not only neglect LGBTQ community, but in the past years, it has been actively working towards limiting their rights.
First, the essay presents the current standing of LGBTQ rights in the European Union context, then it discusses the changes Hungary went through in the past years in terms of legal gender recognition and LGBTQ rights. Afterwards, it highlights potential efforts that could be taken at the international, the regional and the domestic level to tackle this issue.
LGBTQ Rights at European Union Level
The essay mostly focuses on three rights that are relevant for this discussion, mainly the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of assembly and association, and non-discrimination. In the European Union, the Amsterdam Treaty, ratified in 1999 marks a significant milestone in dealing with LGBTQ rights, due to the fact that it considered non-discrimination on multiple grounds.
“Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, and unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”
(Article 13 of the Treaty of Amsterdam, 1999)
Ever since then, the EU implemented this viewpoint in many declarations, conventions and treaties. One of the most important human rights documents at the EU-level is the European Convention of Human Rights, ratified in 1950, which was then accompanied by Guidelines on its implementation.
Article 8 of the Convention, for instance, discusses the right to respect for private and family rights, which translates into non-interference from public authorities, which, in and of itself is a rather general rule, but is significant in the context of LGBTQ rights. In the Guide on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Union presents a rather specific guideline on the interpretation of the rights.
For instance, it states that “legislation criminalising sexual acts between consenting homosexuals was found to breach Article 8”, and that “the relationship between same-sex couple falls within the notion of ‘private life’ within the meaning of Article 8” (Guide on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, p. 38).
The Article also has a sound viewpoint in terms of legal gender recognition, where their argument involves that the controversy surrounding it is no longer acceptable, and it has to be dealt with. However, states have a margin of appreciation in terms of applying this law, meaning, the specific requirements the person need to meet in order to be recognized vary from state to state.
Such requirements consist of physical examinations, diagnosis, medical opinion, and in some states, sterilization. Sterilization is an issue the EU does not agree with, however, due to the margin of appreciation, it is met with obstacles in terms of regulating it at a domestic level within its member states.
Article 10 on the freedom of assembly and association grants freedom to enter any political party, labour unions or other types of organisations, which, in the case of the LGBTQ community is a significant one, since it allows for events such as Pride marches, and provides legal background for countering the ones that try to interfere with this right.
Non-discrimination is a significant right which is often associated with equality within society. Discrimination can either be direct or indirect; direct discrimination is one where, based on their attributes and values, receive discriminatory treatment. Indirect discrimination occurs when one treats the other the same as everyone, but this ends up leading to negative consequences for the individual.
The European Union calls for the prohibition of both types of discrimination, since it treats this right to be a fundamental one. However, transsexual people often experience discrimination in their everyday lives, or at their workplaces, according to a survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
The survey concludes that “more than half of all trans respondents (54%), compared with 47% of all LGBT respondents, felt personally discriminated against or harassed because they were perceived as trans” (Being trans in the European Union, 2014, p. 9). When it comes to statistics that deal with reporting these issues of discrimination to public authorities, the results suggest that “more than three in five trans responders did not report the incident because they were convinced that nothing would happen or change” (Being trans in the European Union, 2014, p. 10).
Hence, even though the standpoint of the European Union in terms of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community is clear, these issues persist.
LGBTQ Rights in Hungary
The past year has been rather difficult in terms of fighting for LGBTQ rights, since the government enacted laws that largely impacted the lives of the community in a highly negative way. On March 11, 2020, the Hungarian government announced a state of emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which allowed the government to rule by decrees, increasing their powers.
This state of emergency has been extended, and the international sphere reacted- many human rights organisations expressed concern (Holroyd, 2020). Due to the fact that the government was ruling with decrees, it could bypass the parliament when it comes to bringing about new legislation, and that is exactly what Fidesz did.
In May 2020, it presented a larger package concerning the pandemic, however, it consisted of a section that dealt with ending legal gender recognition for transgender and intersex people, spurring criticism and discontent at both the domestic and the international level. The way this new legislation works is that “birth sex, once recorded, cannot be amended” (Knight & Gall, 2020).
The legislation also means that “trans people will not be able to choose a name that fits with their identified gender…” (Walker, 2020), forcing them in a highly uncomfortable situation where they need to explain themselves upon showing their identity card. A Hungarian opposition news site, namely 444 discussed the responses the law got at the European level, and said that “the large majority of the European Parliament disapproved of Hungary’s deprivation of transsexual and intersexual people” (Sarkadi, 2020).
Domestic attempts to counter this law has been done by advocacy group Transvanilla, which submitted a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, saying the new rule “contradicts the existing international and domestic norms, and it violates individual’s self-determination” (Transvanilla, 2020). Taking away a pre-existing right is appalling, especially when it comes to human rights.
For the LGBTQ community, the past centuries have involved serious struggles, discrimination, both physical and mental harm, and everyone should be working towards eliminating these actions. In the past years, we have witnessed so many positive changes at the European level, such as acknowledging same-sex marriages, allowing same sex couples to adopt children, encouragement of Pride marches, and these things should be celebrated and encouraged even more in order to achieve a diverse, accepting and open society.
What Hungary does in this sense is simply unacceptable; by revoking a right it previously accepted, it started going backwards, spurring discrimination towards transgender and intersex people, further marginalising them, portraying them as “abnormal”- in the 21st century, it is inexcusable.
However, this has only been a first step in a series of events that altered Hungary’s political landscape in terms of limiting the rights of the LGBTQ community. In Autumn 2020, Dóra Dúró, the deputy leader of a far-right movement Mi Hazánk, tore a children’s book apart that discussed, among all, homosexuality, acceptance of minorities and people with disabilities.
The book, A Fairytale for Everyone “contains well-known tales reframed in a way in which the hero(es) belong(s) to a stigmatized or minority group such as the elderly, homosexuals, Roma, or people with disabilities, while adoption, extreme poverty, and children from abusive families are also featured in the book” (Vass, 2020).
According to Dúró, the book is a homosexual propaganda, and children should not be exposed to this, since “homosexual princes are not part of the Hungarian culture” (Dóra Dúró, as quoted in Magyar Narancs, 2020). She also stated that Hungarian families are the backbone of Hungary’s future”, implying a concerning opinon that she does not view homosexual families to be an acceptable family structure. After this statement, she shredded the book to pieces.
The far-right movement is openly advocating against homosexuality, and it is not the only action they took to voice their opinion. Előd Novák, vice-president of Mi Hazánk stole a Pride flag from the municipality of Budapest (Czinkóczi, 2020).
However, it was not only this far-right movement that started dealing with the issue of this children’s book- Viktor Orbán, Hungarian prime minister said “leave our children alone”, in a radio show, when they asked about his opinion about it. This action was followed by a district-wide ban on the book from kindergartens in one of Budapest’s district, where the mayor is part of the governing party, Fidesz.
Not long after this, the government amended the Hungarian constitution in a way that it de facto prohibits adoption by same-sex couples. Furthermore, it states that “a mother is a woman, a father is a man”, implying a strong homophobic rhetoric from the government’s side, further enforcing their conservative views on family values. According to their justification, there is a need to “protect the child from possible ideological or biological interference” from the modern Western world” (Euronews, 2020).
However, their position on the issue was weakened when a Hungarian member of the European Parliament from the Fidesz was found participating in a “gay sex party in Brussels”, not only violating COVID-19 lockdown rules, but also for possession of illegal drugs (Thorpe, 2020). The politician denied the use of narcotics but confessed to the participation in the party and, a few days after the incident, he resigned.
The BBC article adds that “the sex scandal is particularly embarrassing for a party which campaigns for traditional family values and recently proposed a law to ban gay adoption” (Thorpe, 2020). Fidesz did not properly address the issue in the media – Viktor Orbán thanked the work he did in the European Parliament, praising him for what he had done in terms of furthering conservative Christian values.
A couple of days before writing this article, another highly problematic issue arose. In June 2021, the Hungarian government proposed a legislative package calling for stricter rules against paedophile actions, and for the better protection of children. “Hungary’s ruling nationalist party has submitted legislation to ban content it sees as promoting homosexuality and gender change to minors”, according to the BBC’s article on the topic (2021).
Human rights groups highlighted the fact that this legislation is very similar to the 2013 law in Russia which also banned “gay propaganda”. What is further highlighted in this issue is that the bills are “expected to pass easily given that Fidesz has a majority in parliament” (Szandelszky & Gera, 2021).
The standpoint of the European Union towards LGBTQ rights is crystal clear; in the past centuries it broadened the legal horizon to provide wide-ranging rights for the community, and was actively working towards eliminating any harm and misconduct targeted towards them. It is obvious that Hungary does not fit in this picture, and if Fidesz wins the 2022 elections, the situation will probably only get worse.
Domestically, one thing we could do is to engage in the works the opposition is doing, show our commitment to liberal values, promote the move towards Western society, and protest and march against the hybrid regime Fidesz managed to build in the past years.
Internationally, however, things are not quite simple; even though Hungary does not uphold its promise to liberal European values, the hands of the EU is tied due to the fact that it lacks the mechanisms to actively enforce its values. Hungary has clearly gone against its obligation towards the European Union, since these acts undoubtedly violate multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including non-discrimination, the right to respect for private and family life, and the rights to freedom of expression.
Many organisations, both domestic and international asked the European Commission to stand up against Hungary, to stop its move away from democracy. The European Union has voiced its concern against Hungary multiple times, brought these issues to the European Court of Human Rights, called upon Hungary to keep its obligations. However, these actions fit perfectly in the government’s anti-EU rhetoric, which builds upon the fact that the EU tries to intervene in Hungarian domestic issues.
Hungary is highly dependent on EU funds so perhaps one thing the EU could do to regulate Hungary’s anti-democratic behaviour is to withdrew or cut funds until some changes are made. This would definitely impact Hungary’s economics significantly, showing the government that they need the EU more than they think.
All in all, Hungary is moving backwards, harming minorities, taking away important human rights, disrespecting European standards, spreading hate through propaganda, making the lives of many impossible. These issues highlight one very important thing; the crucial importance of the 2022 elections in Hungary. The opposition will have a difficult time competing against Fidesz, but so far their work has been exceptional in terms of cooperating and actively campaigning against the government.
BBC (2021). Hungary LGBT: content aimed at children to be banned. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57439699
Czinkóczi, S. (2020). Novák Előd elszaladt a rendőrök elől a főváros szívárványos zászlajával. Retrieved from: https://444.hu/2020/08/17/novak-elod-elszaladt-a-rendorok-elol-a-fovaros-szivarvanyos-zaszlajaval
Euronews (2020). Hungarian parliament adopts anti-LGBT laws including de facto ban on adoption by same-sex couples. Retrieved from: https://www.euronews.com/2020/12/15/hungarian-parliament-adopts-anti-lgbt-laws-including-de-facto-ban-on-adoption-by-same-sex-
European Convention on Human Rights (updated on 31st of December, 2020). Guide on Article 8 on the Convention on Human Rights- Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. Retrieved from: https://www.echr.coe.int/documents/guide_art_8_eng.pdf
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014). Being trans in the EU- Comparative analysis of the EU LGBT survey data. Retrieved from: https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-being-trans-eu-comparative-0_en.pdf
Holroyd, M. (2020). Coronavirus: Human rights alarm as Hungary seeks indefinite extension to state of emergency. Retrieved from: https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/23/coronavirus-human-rights-alarm-as-hungary-seeks-indefinite-extension-to-state-of-emergency
Knight, K. & Gall, L. (2020). Hungary ends legal recognition for transgender and intersex people. Retrieved from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/21/hungary-ends-legal-recognition-transgender-and-intersex-people
Magyar Narancs (2020). Dúró Dóra ledarált egy mesekönyvet mert szerinte a meseország nem az aberrráltaké. Retrieved from: https://magyarnarancs.hu/feketelyuk/duro-dora-ledaralt-egy-mesekonyvet-mert-szerinte-meseorszag-nem-az-aberraltake-133498
Sarkandi, Zs. (2020). Munkában a magyar országgyűlés: megszavazták a nemváltás jogi elismerését tiltó javaslatot. Retrieved from: https://444.hu/2020/05/19/munkaban-a-magyar-orszaggyules-megszavaztak-a-nemvaltas-jogi-elismereset-tilto-javaslatot
Szandelszky, B. & Gera, V. (2021). Hungary: Bill would ban ‘promoting’ homosexuality to minors. Retrieved from: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/hungary-plans-ban-promoting-homosexuality-18s-78220125
Transvanilla (2020). Közlemény: az Emberi Jogok Európai Bírósága júniusig adott határidőt Magyarországnak. Retrieved from: https://transvanilla.hu/az-ejeb-juniusig-adott-hataridot
Thorpe, N. (2020). József Szájer: Hungary MEP quits after allegedly fleeing gay orgy. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-55145989
Vass, Á. (2020). Mi Hazánk Politician rips ‘homosexual propaganda children’s book’ apart, reminds publishers of Nazi book burnings. Retrieved from: https://hungarytoday.hu/mi-hazank-duro-homosexual-propaganda-childrens-book-nazi-burning/
Walker, S. (2020). Hungary votes to end legal gender recognition of trans people. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/19/hungary-votes-to-end-legal-recognition-of-trans-people