Viktor Orbán announces referendum on children in response to EU inquiries into Hungary's controversial anti-LGBT law

July 21. 2021. – 12:28 PM

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On Wednesday morning, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced a referendum about the matters regulated in Hungary's so-called "Child Protection Act," adopted in June, which severely restricted portrayals of LGBTQ+ themes in media and limited sexual education.

The Hungarian Prime Minister began his Facebook video message in a sombre tone:

"In recent weeks, Brussels has unquestionably launched an attack against Hungary over the Child Protection Act. [...] They take offense at the fact that what has become a permanent reality in Western Europe cannot happen here. There, LGBTQ activists regularly visit kindergartens and schools; they are the ones educating children about sexuality. They want that to happen here, which is why bureaucrats in Brussels are making threats, launching infringement procedures, in short, abusing their powers."

Orbán stated that the "future of our children is at stake," adding that under such international pressure, "Hungary can only be protected by the will of the people," for which reason he announced that the government initiated a referendum with the following five questions, urging citizens to vote against them:

  1. Do you support educational programs in public education introducing underage children to sexual orientations without their parents' consent?
  2. Do you support promoting gender reassignment treatments to underage children?
  3. Do you support making gender reassignment treatments available to underage children?
  4. Do you support the unrestricted sharing of media content with underage children that influences their sexual development?
  5. Do you support sharing media content with underage children that portrays gender change [sic]?

Behind these questions is the contentious Child Protection Act, adopted mid-June, which we covered in detail in our earlier article. The initial draft of the bill, submitted in May, merely proposed introducing heavier penalties for sexual crimes against minors. However, last-minute changes to the text added measures limiting LGBTQ+ content in media and sexual education. As per the legislation that has since entered into force:

  • Ads and television shows "portraying or promoting" homosexuality or sex change may only be shown to audiences over 18, and only after the 10:00 PM watershed,
  • Sexual education in schools must be conducted by government-registered organisations, based on government-registered education materials which cannot "aim to promote deviation from the identity corresponding to one's sex assigned at birth, sex reassignment, or homosexuality."

As the explanatory memorandum claimed, this was necessary to prevent "organisations of questionable professional credibility, created in many cases to represent certain sexual orientations" influencing children's sexual development.

Critics of the law say that including these measures in the law effectively conflates sexual minorities with paedophiles. Háttér Társaság, an LGBTQ+ rights advocate group, also emphasised that the law "seeks to erase LGBTQ+ people from the public discourse and ban essential school programs that help young people get education and support.

As Orbán himself referenced, this legislation sparked a major controversy in the European Union as well. In a joint statement issued shortly after the law passed, eighteen leaders of EU member states requested the Commission to "all the tools at its disposal" to enforce EU law and end the stigmatisation of the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary. President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called the bill a "shame," and the Commission has since launched three proceedings over the law seen as violating fundamental rights of sexual minorities. As the Commission's statement reads:

"Because of the gravity of these violations, the contested provisions also violate the values laid down in Article 2 TEU,"

namely "the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities."