Hungary’s parliament on Tuesday passed legislation banning the distribution of content in schools deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change, amid fierce criticism from human rights groups and opposition parties.
Hardline nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces elections next year, has become increasingly radical on social policy, railing against LGBT people and immigrants in his self-proclaimed illiberal regime, which has deeply divided Hungarians.
His Fidesz party, which promotes a Christian-conservative agenda, has converted the proposal to ban school conversations on LGBT issues (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) into a separate, widely supported bill that severely punishes pedophilia, making it opponents becomes much more difficult to vote against it.
The movement, which critics say wrongly confuses pedophilia with LGBT issues, sparked a mass rally outside parliament on Monday, as several rights groups have called on Fidesz to withdraw the bill.
Fidesz lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the legislation on Tuesday, while opposition left-wing parties boycotted the vote.
Under amendments to the bill tabled last week, young people under the age of 18 are not allowed to view content that encourages gender change or homosexuality. This also applies to advertisements. The law establishes a list of organizations that are allowed to provide education about sex in schools.
The US embassy in Budapest said it was “deeply concerned” about anti-LGBTQI+ aspects of the legislation.
“The United States is committed to the idea that governments should promote freedom of expression and protect human rights, including the rights of members of the LGBTQI+ community,” it said in a statement on its website.
Same-sex marriage is not recognized in Hungary and only heterosexual couples can legally adopt children. Orban’s government has redefined marriage as the union between one man and one woman in the constitution, and restricted gay adoption.
Critics have drawn a parallel between the new legislation and Russia’s 2013 law banning the spread of “propaganda about non-traditional sexual relations” among young Russians.
Poland’s conservative ruling party Law and Justice (PiS), Fidesz’s main ally in the European Union, has taken an equally critical stance on LGBT issues. Budapest and Warsaw are at odds with the European Union over some of their conservative reforms.
The European Parliament’s rapporteur on the situation in Hungary, Greens legislator Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, on Tuesday denounced the new law: “Using child protection as an excuse to target LGBTIQ people harms all children in Hungary .”
Orban has won three consecutive electoral victories since 2010, but opposition parties have now joined forces for the first time, overtaking Fidesz in opinion polls.