Hungarian lawmakers passed a law Tuesday that effectively bans adoptions by same-sex couples, in what LGBTQ advocates say is a widening assault on their community.
The law easily passed Hungary’s nationalist-dominated parliament, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority.
Lawmakers also voted to amend the constitution with new definitions that rights groups say further stigmatise the LGBTQ community. The amendments include a vow to protect children’s “right to identify as the sex they were born with,” and a definition of family as composed of a male father and a female mother.
While there would be exceptions in which single people or family members could apply for special approval to adopt children, the law states that “the main rule is that only married couples can adopt a child, that is, a man and a woman who are married.”
Hungary does not recognise same-sex marriage.
The votes were widely condemned by rights groups, who accuse the conservative Fidesz party of scapegoating the LGBTQ community for political gain.
“LGBTI children will be forced to grow up in an environment which restricts them from being able to express their identities, and children across Hungary will be refused safe and loving families, as adoption is restricted only to married heterosexual couples,” said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director at ILGA World, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
“This is a dark day for Hungary’s LGBTI+ community and a dark day for human rights,” said David Vig, director of Amnesty Hungary.
“These discriminatory, homophobic and transphobic new laws — rushed through under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic — are just the latest attack on LGBTI+ people by Hungarian authorities.”
Hungary’s LGBTQ community has repeatedly warned that it is being singled out by Orbán as his government’s next public enemy ahead of parliamentary elections due in 2022, continuing a successful strategy of scapegoating minorities, such as migrants, as threats to the Hungarian people.
That strategy echoes the approach of Orbán’s close allies in Poland, where the ruling Law and Justice party has successfully rallied against so-called “LGBT ideology” to drum up support in recent elections.
In May, Hungary banned legal gender recognition, preventing trans people from legally changing their gender. And in October, Orbán waded into a culture war raging around a children’s fairytale book with gay characters, with a warning to “leave our children alone”.
Péter Krekó, director of the Budapest-based think tank the Political Capital Institute, told VICE World News that the law changes reflected a familiar political strategy from Fidesz to campaign on “symbolic issues.”
“We usually see when the government is facing challenges, like COVID, they like to use symbolic issues. They try to mobilise their own electorate, and keep the political discourse focused on these symbolic issues,” he said.
The law changes, he said, were a “symbolic declaration of a hyper-conservative definition of family, and an indirect rejection of the LGBT movement.”
“It’s about rejecting this ‘rainbow ideology,’ pushing this idea that it poses an essential threat to national survival, because how will Hungarians reproduce?”
The government’s hardline stance on LGBTQ issues has left it open to accusations of hypocrisy, just weeks after József Szájer — a founding member of Fidesz, a close associate of Orbán's, and the husband of a Constitutional Court judge — resigned as a Fidesz member of the European Parliament after being caught breaking lockdown restrictions by attending a gay orgy in Belgium.
Nevertheless, said Krekó, the government’s conservative stance on LGBTQ issues appeared to be filtering through to society, with polls showing rising homophobia in Hungary.
“Orbán doesn’t want to be someone who just rides the waves of public opinion — he wants to transform society,” he said. “We’ve seen a concerted drive to push society in a more conservative direction.”