Hungarian Parties and Same-Sex Marriage: Stances, Questions and Concerns

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For years now, the Hungarian LGBTQ community has proven itself to be one of the best organized civil movements: the number of people attending the annual Pride parade is increasing each year; their interannual programs (from a film festival to the Coming Out Day) strengthen the notions of openness, awareness and acceptance both towards the community and the mainstream society. Compared to the rest of the civil organizations set out to defend human rights, Pride is less insistent on isolating itself from party politicians: politicians of left-wing and liberal parties typically attend the annual march with high-profile representation.

On the other hand, however, apparently this is the maximum level of support politicians are willing to show when it comes to the LGBTQ’s fight for the extension of rights: based on the opinions articulated at a conference held last week on same-sex marriage, it seems uncertain that Hungary would move closer to establishing same-sex marriage if a new government was elected.

On the jointly organized event of Budapest Pride and Integrity Lab, Hungarian left-wing and liberal opposition parties and Jobbik (the radical right-wing party) debated the topic. While the latter categorically denied the idea of same-sex marriage, the rest of the parties, in theory, were all in agreement with it. However, their positions greatly differed in terms of the question of timing and the path that has to be taken towards realization. After the debate the general impression was that the larger the party, the less adamant or daring it is to become engaged in the issue. The Liberals and the leftist-green Párbeszéd (the Dialogue for Hungary party) were the only two participants who approved of the idea of the immediate extension of rights. The liberal-centralist Together and the green party Politics can be Different argued for a gradual progress that could last throughout even multiple parliamentary terms, whereas the largest opposition party on the left, the Hungarian Socialist Party, repeatedly voiced its concern that if the topic of same-sex marriage found its way onto the agenda of Hungarian politics, it would be harmful for the LGBTQ community, as it would find itself in the crossfire of harsh attacks.

The lack of a symbolic and unquestionable sign of support is somewhat surprising, although it is not, by far, out of the blue. During the past six years, members of LGBTQ were supported by the left only when the community was the target of attacks from the direction of either the governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition or Jobbik. For this very reason, homophobia was – and will probably remain – a predictable and well-functioning weapon for the right-wing: within their own groups of voters, the rejection of LGBTQ rights is in a majority, whereas despite the varying opinions amongst the voters of the leftist opposition, left-wing parties are afraid to take side with the stance of the supporting minority, even though it is known that political support can, in fact, shape the society’s view even in questions such as the one concerned here. Today, the uncertainty of left-wing, liberal parties is reflected in their voters – for example, compared to the supporters of right-wing parties, a smaller proportion rejects and a larger proportion supports the idea of same-sex marriage, but many of them are unable to decide.

The leftist, liberal dilemma surrounding LGBTQ rights does not stand on its own; the issue concerned here is not an exclusive framework for interpretation. With their current strategy, the left-wing opposition subjects itself to the governing parties, who are able to constantly generate and keep on the agenda issues in which the majority of their own voters as well as the mainstream society agrees on a certain opinion, while voters of the opposition are divided. If left-wing, liberal parties fail to overcome the limits of voters’ attitudes, they will be permanently stuck in their current reactive, defensive role.

Furthermore, these processes reinforce each other: a newly evolved counterargument against the straightforward support of the LGBTQ groups is that in this heated state resulting from the refugee crisis, the next target will be the community – which may have truth to it. However, the situation itself developed in the first place partly because opposition parties could not provide any answer to the crisis. If the opposition keeps defining itself within this government-established, often populist framework, which is based on mainstream attitudes, it will be unable to take on various issues and bring on changes in the society.

At the same time, issues represented today by the left-wing, liberal progression are mainly those in which a social majority does not exist – it has to be established: starting from the extension of rights supported by the LGBTQ to the multiple questions on gender issues, through attitudes towards refugees and social inclusion to social integration. These are not lost or impossible causes: generally, it is the loud resistance of a minority that opposes the demands or support of an even smaller minority, meanwhile the majority of the society is shifting between the two positions.

This, however, is nothing new. In fact, history does repeat itself: in the past, issues such as women’s right to vote, the black civil rights movement or the question of abortion were all examples of how a minority faced the task of developing into a majority. In recent years, however, it was the message of the necessity of progression that carried this “social middle” in Western Europe towards the extension of rights and acceptance. At the same time, what we now witness is that this seemingly – and many would say even certainly existing – balanced progression has apparently come to a halt.

In Eastern European societies, on the other hand, messages addressed to a conservative majority – often with government assistance – enjoy an ever growing support, while the minority of progression becomes isolated in its hostility; it is left on its own and is less and less able to make an effect on the social middle that should or could be convinced. The Hungarian example in connection with the extension of the rights of the LGBTQ community suggests that parties will soon no longer be even willing at all to make a change: they aspire towards lesser resistance, which is technically the conservative viewpoint that the government represented in the first place. It is impossible to make politics and thus changing the attitude of the mainstream society without taking on conflicts.

Until now, the pressure coming from the academic area of the civil sphere that intends to draw attention to the dangers of anti-gender movements has paradoxically contributed to the unwillingness of these parties and movements that were originally set out to represent progression to step up and act in matters that would in the long run improve the situation of now helpless groups (women, the poor, members of the LGBTQ community). If the idea of not subjecting these groups to opposing opinions becomes more important in their political actions, if they think that the interests of these groups are best served by not “provoking” the mainstream society’s opposing thinking, then the circumstances of these minorities will not improve. Straightforward and confident political support cannot be replaced by believing in the moral justifications of left-wing-liberal progression: there is absolutely no guarantee that populist movements will simply cease to exist by themselves and that the attitudes of their now successfully addressed voters will suddenly change.

Roland Reiner
Integrity Lab