Using Democracy to Undermine Equality Hungary’s Referendum on LGBTIQ Rights is Part of a Wider Pattern
Voters in Ireland, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Croatia have all been asked to vote on LGBTIQ equality in the past decade – now Hungary’s population will go to the ballot box to decide on the same issue
Three days before the LGBTIQ community and its allies marched on Budapest Pride, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced a referendum on “child protection” – a euphemism for his Government’s raft of anti-LGBTIQ laws.
These laws include an end to the legal recognition of transgender people; a ban on LGBT content in schools; and a growing climate of hostility against LGBTIQ people and their allies, including national footballing heroes. It also builds on policies such as banning gender studies courses.
The referendum will ask five questions, couched in leading language to suggest that children are being sexualised by comprehensive sex and relationships education, and that LGBTIQ rights are in conflict with parental rights.
They are: “Do you support that children shall encounter sexual educational content that shows different sexual orientations without parental consent?; Do you support that sex changing procedures shall be promoted to children?; Do you support that such procedures shall be made available for children?; Do you support that media programmes which influence children’s development shall be aired without restrictions?; Do you support that media programmes which portray sex change shall be available for children?”
Speaking to the BBC, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that the referendum is about democracy and means that “the people will have a chance to make their will very clear”.
However, it will be one of many votes on LGBTIQ rights that have taken place in Europe over the past decade and part of a wider pattern influenced by religious and far-right actors who seek to use democratic processes to undermine equality.
A Pattern of Votes
In 2013, the shadowy religious-right network Agenda Europe launched with a manifesto titled ‘Restoring the Natural Order’ – a blueprint for the tactics and strategies it saw as key to achieving its aims to roll-back women’s and LGBTIQ people’s rights.
Despite its name, Agenda Europe is linked to American religious freedom organisations – its first summit in London in 2013 was co-organised by Terence McKeegan, an American lawyer who has worked both for C-Fam and the European Centre for Law and Justice, the regional arm of the American Centre for Law and Justice. The latter has spent more than $17 million in Europe since 2008.
Agenda Europe’s long-term goal for “marriage and the family” can be achieved, its manifesto states, by forcing states to adopt a “clear definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in an international agreement, explicitly excluding same-sex marriages”.
Doing so often requires amendments to the wording of a nation’s constitution if marriage is not worded as being explicitly between a man and a woman – for example, if it is defined as between two spouses. In many European countries, amending the constitution requires a democratic vote – a referendum.
This was the case in Croatia, where Agenda Europe’s member organisation, In The Name Of The Family, successfully campaigned to launch a referendum to change the definition of marriage in the country’s Constitution and ban equal marriage. The vote was called after the nation’s centre-left Government drafted a law that would allow LGBTIQ couples to register as “life partners”.
Slovenia followed, with Agenda Europe member Children at Stake being instrumental in a constitutional referendum to ban LGBTIQ couples from marrying. Voters rejected equal marriage, although the country’s Parliament later pushed through a law legalising it.
In Romania, the Coalition for the Family collected three million signatures to pressure the Government to call a referendum to re-word the Constitution from defining marriage as between “two spouses” to between a “man and a woman”. Liberty Counsel, a US legal charity that has spent almost a million dollars in Europe over the past decade, supported the Coalition with an anti-same sex marriage tour around Romania featuring Kim Davies – a registrar briefly jailed in the US for refusing to officiate at a gay wedding. Low turnout meant that the vote was ruled invalid – but Coalition of the Family members later entered the nation’s Parliament in 2021 as part of the far-right AUR Party.
A similar situation occurred in Slovakia, where the Alliance For The Family organisation campaigned for votes on equal marriage, gay adoption and sex education. Low turnout again meant that the vote was invalid, but LGBTIQ couples still don’t have many legal rights.
Although Hungary’s referendum is not on the subject of equal marriage, the decision to use democratic structures to undermine LGBTIQ equality follows the same pattern.
The euphemistic use of the term ‘child protection’ for Hungary’s referendum reflects European-wide efforts that couch anti-gender activism in concern for children’s safety and opposition to comprehensive sex and relationships education.
The European citizens’ initiative, Mum Dad & Kids, launched in 2015 seeking to “protect marriage and the family” in the EU. It claimed that LGBTIQ families unjustly deprived children of a mother or father – an “aberration”. The initiative arose “from within Agenda Europe”, according to researcher Neil Datta.
One of Mum Dad & Kids’ founding members was Roger Kiska, who at the time was a senior legal counsel for ADF International in Slovakia. ADF International is the European arm of the US religious freedom giant Alliance Defending Freedom. The organisation has spent more than $21 million in the region since 2008 and is linked to Agenda Europe.
Today, Kiska is the legal counsel for Christian Concern – an organisation that co-founded the anti-sex education campaign group, Parent Power. The group has argued that sex education promotes “LGBT dogma” and “trans indoctrination” in schools. It was launched in Parliament by the now leader of the UK’s Democratic Unionist Party, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
During Kiska’s time at ADF International in Slovakia, the organisation provided an amicus briefing to the Slovak Constitutional Court regarding the referendum on equal marriage.
Spain’s Agenda Europe-linked CitizenGO, and the country’s far-right Vox Party, are also using child protection and sex education as a wedge issue to further their anti-LGBTIQ agenda.
In France, the campaigning group La Manif Pour Les Tous is a further example of an Agenda Europe-linked organisation working against comprehensive sex education. As with Parent Power, it claims that children are being ‘taught masturbation‘.
Hungary’s anti-LGBTIQ leadership is close to many of the organisations linked to Agenda Europe and the wider anti-gender community campaigning against sex education.
In 2017, Budapest hosted the notorious World Congress of Families, with Prime Minister Orbán the star speaker. Having posed in photos with its founder, Brian Brown, Orbán gave a speech calling “liberal ideology” an “insult to families”. The Congress’ flag was symbolically “passed” to Katalin Novak, the Minister for Family. Novak then spoke at 2018’s Congress in Verona.
Brown is understood to “have frequented” Agenda Europe summits, as has the Congress’ Russian representative Alexey Komov. Other attendees with alleged Agenda Europe links were Alliance Defending Freedom, In The Name Of The Family, and CitizenGO – a co-sponsor of the 2017 event.
It is therefore of little surprise to see Hungary’s Government now using the tactics favoured by these global anti-gender, anti-rights network as it continues to wage war against the country’s LGBTIQ community.
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