Swakshadip Sarkar - Associate, Gender Equality Mandate
The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest has recently adopted an anti-pedophilia law which is perceived to be anti-LGBTQ+ creating a stir both in the country and abroad. The law which is supposed to be a crackdown on paedophilia comes after child sexual abuse and promiscuity have gained a lot of attention recently in the Hungarian media. The cases of padophilia in churches captured in a book written by Rita Perintfalvi has sparked debates in the Hungarian society. The Hungarian society is largely based on the Roman Catholic Church with no separation between the state and religion. The inability of the Church to act and protect the minors would ultimately be a blow to the Hungarian state and hence, this law was apparently proposed before the launch of the book on June 11.
Certain Hungarian government officials have also come under the scrutiny recently for having child pornography and participating in orgy parties. Gábor Kaleta, the former Hungarian Ambassador to Peru was found to be having child pornography stored on his official computer. He was summoned back to Hungary where he accepted the charges in the court and was fined 540,000 forints ($1815). Kaleta ended up not going to prison as the court and prosecutor agreed due to the underlying circumstances. In any case, he would have only been sentenced to a maximum of 1 year in a suspended prison similar to those accused of forgery or vandalism. In another instance, Győr city mayor Zsolt Borkai’s videos of participating in sex orgies went viral ahead of the minicipal elections in 2019. Although Borkai was re-elected in the election following the scandal, he resigned soon after. The new decade also saw similar incidents when József Szájer, EMP who was one of the drafters of the Hungarian constitution which bans same-sex marriages in the nation was caught at a gay sex party by police breaching the COVID-19 restrictions.
Background of LGBTQ+ Rights in Hungary
Before we get into the particulars of the law and how it cracks down on the LGBTQ+ people, it is necessary to look at the social, political and legal environments concerning them. Hungary is a conservative Christian nation with most of its population adhering to Roman Catholicism. The politicians in the nations also speak loudly about Christianity and oppose LGBTQ+ rights. The right wing government led by Viktor Orban has repeatedly attacked LGBTQ+ rights in the nation. Coca Cola was fined in 2019 for an advertisement featuring a gay couple. Orban went to the extent of criticising a children’s book called “Wonderful Is For Everyone” which featured homosexual people calling it a “homosexual propaganda” directed at children and issued a warning that indoctrinating children with the LGBTQ+ agenda won’t be tolerated in the nation.
Homosexuality in the nation was decriminalised in 1961 for people aged 20 and above and subsequently in 1978 for people aged 18 and above. The current age of consent is 14 adopted in 2002 which applies both to heterosexual and homosexual activity. Hungary currently recognises same-sex partnerships which in on par with same-sex marriage with the exceptions of certain benefits like assisted reproduction, taking a last name or adoption. The Parliament in 2011 restricted marriage to only opposite sex couples and did not guarantee any protection from discrimination. The current right wing government led by Viktor Orban has further outlawed adoption for same-sex couples on the basis that every child deserves to have a mom and dad and a Christian upbringing.
While homosexuality is still somewhat accepted in the nation with some legal provisions, it is not so for transgender persons. Transgender people do not have their right to change gender legally and neither have the right to serve in the military. The social acceptance is somewhat more for LGBTQ+ people. ILGA carried out a poll in 2017 and found that 64% of Hungarians agreed that LGB people should enjoy the same rights as straight people, while 15% disagreed. 13% of Hungarians, however, said that people who are in same-sex relationships should be charged as criminals, while 64% disagreed. As for transgender people, 60% agreed that they should have the same rights, 64% believed they should be protected from employment discrimination and a plurality of 48% believed they should be allowed to change their legal gender.
Description of Pedophilia Law
Let us get into the contents of this law now and why this is considered to be a crackdown on LGBTQ+ people. The new law starts with sentences such as: “The state should ensure the right of children to an identity in line with their sex at birth” (Article 3/A). This is inline with the earlier provisions in 2020 which changed “gender identity” with “birth sex” completely outlawing the legal provisions to change gender on IDs. This law also contains many openly homo and transphobic provisions. This law proposes a ban to “exposing minors to any content that depicts sexuality for its own sake or portrays and promotes homosexuality or deviance from gender identity based on birth sex”. The law bans portrayals of LGBTQ+ people in any sort of media content, education or advertisements. Sex education in schools further is supposed to be conducted only by groups authorised by the government. Considering the government’s stance on homosexuality and the conservative way of life, it is very unlikely that they will grant any queer organisation to teach kids at school about sex education.
This law is similar to the Gay Propaganda Law that was adopted by Russia in 2013. The official name of the latter law is “[Law] for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values.” Section 28 in the UK adopted during Thatcher’s rule in the 1980s also had similar clauses and forbade teaching about LGBTQ+ identities in schools. The Hungarian law makes a stronger statement here as it includes homosexuality and gender change on par with pedophilia. The law indeed provides very vague definitions as to what will be punishable. Some people are of the opinion that even waving rainbow flags in the nation could be punishable. In the past in Russia, “Gay Propaganda Law” has been used against the LGBTQ+ activists waving a rainbow flag. Similar concerns have been raised in Hungary as well.
Effects of This Law
While it is suspected that entirely putting this law into action would not be possible since it would be highly unlikely to move all the TV shows displaying LGBTQ+ characters after 10 PM. Orban’s government does not have the ability to ban internet sites displaying information about LGBT+ people is not possible either. However, the helplines and famous websites for LGBT+ which people have access to without an age limit can be potential targets. It is highly likely that the biggest target for the Government would be the Pride Parade. The parade has brought discussions in the mainstream population in the past as well with a majority of people and the main opposition party opposing it.
While its effects on the educational sector is yet not known, it could include banning of Shakespeare and Sappho’s plays and potentially any literature that displays queer characters. The publishers who are publishing books for people aged under 18 could be targeted for displaying LGBTQ+ characters in their books under this law.
Political Gains for Orban
The reason why Orban focussed on passing the law and its potential gains are manyfold. The country is already going through pressing issues like economic crisis, widespread corruption, crumbling healthcare system amidst the pandemic and the controversial opening of Chinese Fudan University’s campus in Budapest. The law can well act to potentially divert people’s attention from those issues ahead of the 2022 elections. This was well targeted to attract voters since the shredding of Dora Duro’s book became very popular amongst the Hungarian population. Hence, this law could well attract voters by displaying the same level of queerphobia.
The six largest opposition parties in Hungary agreed to form a coalition against the Orban led government. However, the main opposition in the country i.e. Jobbik which also voted to pass the law is an extreme right wing party as well and displays the same if not a higher level of queerphobia. The Left mostly boycotted the vote because voting against the law could have been perceived as speaking in support of pedophilia. Therefore, this law has also succeeded in dividing the opposition ahead of the polls next year.
Hungary’s actions have been widely condemned by the EU and Western media. EU President Ursula Von der Leyen has called the Hungarian law a shame and said “This bill clearly discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation. It goes against the fundamental values of the European Union: human dignity, equality and respect for human rights.” Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke of the law being wrong on many levels and said that the information about LGBTQ+ people cannot be restricted and it is a fundamental violation of human rights. However, the degree to which this will affect the Hungarian population remains to be seen. Hungary has recently shifted their focus from Western nations to the East and has successfully developed relations with Russia and China. The way how Western nations and EU speak against the law can be perceived as advocating for pedophilia. However, given 85% of the Hungarian population is in favour of remaining in the EU, chances of “Huxit” can be ruled out.
The introduction of the Pedophilia Law which contains many queerphobic provisions with regards to educating people about homosexuality and transgenderism has caused widespread havoc with mass demonstrations both within the nation and abroad. Hungarian Government has received condemnations from several Western democracies and the EU. The Law acts as a fundamental violation of human rights and the principles that the EU upholds. However, within the country, this is only said to strengthen the Orban’s Government especially ahead of the elections next year to divert from many issues concerning the nation and promoting a Christian way of life. This law will crackdown on all sorts of publications, media, advertisements that displays LGBTQ+ characters. Education in schools about LGBTQ+ people will also be banned while further effects on education are still awaited. This law is concerned to be particularly violent towards the LGBTQ+ people equating them with pedophilia which further raises the risk of hate crimes towards them. This is a setback for the LGBTQ+ rights not just in Hungary but in the EU and all across the world.
Protests in Hungarian Capital of Budapest. Image Credit; Al Jazeera
About the Author
Swakshadip Sarkar grew up in West Bengal, India and they moved to the UK to earn a bachelor's degree at the age of 17. They finished their MSc in Social and Cultural Theory from the University of Bristol. They are working independently as a researcher having worked on homosexuality identity formation amongst homosexual men in West Bengal for their MSc dissertation. They have also been involved in activism both in India and the UK where they have participated in several outreach programmes to raise awareness about the issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. They are personally interested in LGBTQ+ activism and research specially in the broader area of gender equality.