Hungary passes law barring pornography, pro-LGBT content for minors

shutterstock 367955912 Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary. | Shutterstock

Hungary’s parliament has passed a sex crimes law that includes elements aiming to protect children, barring providing pornography and content that promotes gender reassignment and homosexuality to anyone under age 18. 

Backers of the law emphasized the need to protect children and to support parents, though the move has drawn criticism from the Hungarian opposition parties, LGBT activists, NGOs, and the U.S. embassy.


Citing the need to ensure “the protection of children’s rights,” the law says, “pornography and content that depicts sexuality for its own purposes or that promotes deviation from gender identity, gender reassignment and homosexuality shall not be made available to persons under the age of 18.”


Sexual education classes, says the law, “should not be aimed at promoting gender segregation, gender reassignment or homosexuality,” Agence France Presse reports.


Outside of school teachers, only officially registered individuals or organizations may hold sex education classes.


“This means that liberal NGOs would probably be excluded,” the news site Hungary Today said.


Television stations would be required to carry an “18 and over” certificate for films and programs whose content diverges from the law, restricting it to the hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Hungary’s media authority must take action where any infringement takes place, the New York Times reports.


Gabriella Selmeczi, an MP from the governing Fidesz party, said, “true liberalism is about leaving children under the age of 18 alone with issues that affect their sexual orientation,” the news site Hungary Today said.


The law was packaged as an anti-pedophilia law.


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Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó commented on the law, saying, “protection of our children might not be a question: zero tolerance for pedophiles, while the education of children about sexual orientation is the parents’ sole right.”  


The bill also creates a public database of sex offenders. Many last-minute changes were made to the bill following sex scandals involving political and government figures, including Fidesz members.


The bill passed July 15 by a vote of 157-1. Most opposition parties boycotted the vote.


Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist Fidesz party holds 116 seats and controls parliament in coalition with the Christian Democratic People’s Party. The nationalist Jobbik Party backed the law along with several independent lawmakers.

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The television station RTL Klub stressed its desire to protect families and children but added, “we also believe that diversity and tolerance are important European values, and we are concerned that a bill presented last week also seriously violates freedom of expression” and non-discrimination principles. The television station wondered whether movies like Billy Elliot, Bridget Jones’ Diary, or some Harry Potter movies could fall under the law, as well as American television series like Modern Family or Friends.


Fidesz recently condemned a Hungarian children’s book for including “homosexual propaganda.” The fairy tale-themed book, which presented itself as promoting minority rights, included a portrayal of a same-sex relationship between two princes.


Opponents of the new law organized protests in the capital which drew several thousands of people. They argued it violated principles of equality and freedom and objected to linking LGBT advocacy with pedophilia.


Krisztian Rozsa, a psychologist and board member with the Foundation for Rainbow Families, told the New York Times he was worried the bill could increase bullying among young people against those not perceived as heterosexual and affect children raised by same-sex couples.


Other observers placed the bill in the context of the upcoming 2022 elections, where Orban and Fidesz could face challenges.


Some European leaders have objected to the law. European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli warned that the European Union could withhold funding over the law, Reuters reports.


Dunja Mijatovic, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, had asked that the legislation be rejected, criticizing measures she said “limit human rights or stigmatize ... some members of society.” She argued that international human rights groups have established that young people have a right to comprehensive sex education, including discussion of LGBT issues. The proposals “run counter to international and European human rights standards,” she said.


A coalition of LGBT groups called Budapest Pride on July 10 had asked U.S. LGBT groups, political leaders and government officials to “call out” President Joe Biden to raise the issue of the law at meetings with NATO and EU leaders on July 14 and July 15, respectively, BBC News reports.


While Biden is a professed Catholic who attends Mass and makes his faith part of his public identity, he was the first sitting U.S. vice-president to endorse gay marriage and has officiated at same-sex ceremonies. He is backing a strict LGBT anti-discrimination Equality Act that would strip religious freedom protections.


The U.S. Embassy to Hungary, which had praised the Budapest Pride evet in an August 2020 statement, was critical of the law.


“The United States stands for the idea that governments should promote freedom of expression and protect human rights, including the rights of members of the LGBTQI+ community,” the embassy said.


Russia and Poland have also passed legislation limiting LGBT advocacy, and the issue has become a point of contention in relations with Western Europe and the United States, which have taken a strong pro-LGBT turn in recent decades.


Budapest Pride objected that the law will “put a de facto ban on LGBTQ educational programs in schools,” ban LGBTQ-themed media content, products and television advertising.


Budapest Pride also objected to “inflammatory sentences” added to the Hungarian Constitution such as “The father is a man, the mother is a woman,” “every child has a right to receive Christian upbringing,” and “every child has a right to live according to their sex at birth.”


The Hungarian constitution recognizes the family and the nation as “the principal framework of our coexistence” and declares “our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith, and love.”


“Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival,” it said.


The United States decriminalized same-sex sex acts nationwide in the early 2000s, when the Supreme Court struck down a rarely enforced Texas anti-sodomy law. However, LGBT issues have become dominant in many aspects of American culture, religion, business, and law, with marriage being redefined to recognize same-sex couples in a 2015 Supreme Court decision.


Increasing stigma in the U.S. against Christians and others who do not accept or recognize same-sex relationships has raised questions about American commitments to religious freedom and a place for traditional religion in society.

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