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Rights Under Fire in Hungary




Matthew Solomon

On June 15, 2021, by a vote of 157 to 1, the national assembly of Hungary passed a law which bans the "promotion" of information about LGBTIQ issues to minors.

The move is yet another attack on the rights of LGBTIQ people, a trend which has been growing in the country since the ascent to power of the Fidesz party and its leader Viktor Orbán over the last decade. Over the past year the Hungarian government passed a bill preventing transgender and intersex people from changing their gender marker on official documents, and parliament adopted an amendment to the constitution effectively banning same-sex couples from adopting children.

The most recent law was met with strong international condemnation. Institutions of the European Union called for it to be revoked and began legal proceedings against Hungary. Numerous individual states also expressed their concern and condemnation of the law.

In response to international condemnation and in an effort to show public support for the law, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has promised to hold a referendum. The referendum has been justified by government officials as a democratic necessity in order to ensure the will of the people. However, this referendum is far from an affirmation of democratic values.

Not only is this specific referendum filled with leading questions that do not accurately explain the de facto elements of the law, any referendum aimed at restricting civil liberties is a deplorable political act. A constitutional democracy is not majority rules, that would be tyranny. One of the core elements of a democracy is the protection of minorities, regardless of the opinions of a majority. 

This sets the stage for yet another example of governments using LGBTIQ people as pawns in power plays designed to hold on to power. An election is planned in Hungary for next year. It is likely that this public move to restrict the civil liberties of the LGBTIQ community is an effort to consolidate support from a nationalist base. Orbán employs rhetoric that is common in other countries, like Russia, Poland, and Georgia, that he is protecting “traditional values”, positioning LGBTIQ people as somehow foreign and threatening to these values.

This law and its rhetoric is indicative of the failings of democracy seen in recent years. Nationalist and extremist leaders in countries across the world have successfully consolidated power by creating an imaginary zero-sum game where they lead constituents to believe that the advancement of one social group's civil liberties will be a detriment to their own. For example, leading Hungarians to believe that guaranteeing the fundamental freedom of expression to LGBTIQ people will harm their societal conception of a “traditional family.” This way of thinking may help politicians in the short term, but the long term effects of how this affects human rights, civil liberties, and democracy itself are debilitating.

In fact, this mentality goes against the very core of human rights - which is universality. And of democracy - equal opportunities for all. To suggest that the majority should be allowed to effectively silence the minority through something as unequivocally democratic as the referendum, is an insult to the democratic process. This is not just harmful for the LGBTIQ community, it affects all Hungarians. If one group is allowed to be discriminated against, the legitimacy of democracy overall will weaken. Not only will this affect LGBTIQ people, it will affect everyone.

Outright joins all international condemnations of the new law and further expresses their support for the civil society organizations working in Hungary despite the discrimination they are faced with. Discrimination against the LGBTIQ community affects everyone who wishes for a world where civil liberties are upheld and protected.

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