Orban referendum plan raises stakes in LGBT dispute between Hungary and EU

BUDAPEST, July 21 (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday escalated the culture war with the European Union by announcing a referendum on legislation limiting school education on homosexuality and transgender issues.

The European Commission last week started legal action against the measures, which were included in amendments to education and child protection laws. If successful, Brussels could suspend funding to Hungary while the restrictions are maintained. Read more

But Orban seemed ready to raise the ante.

“The future of our children is at stake, so we cannot give ground on this issue,” he said in a video on Facebook.

“In recent weeks, Brussels has clearly attacked Hungary for its child protection law. Hungarian laws do not allow sexual propaganda in kindergartens, schools, on television and in advertisements.

The European Commission did not immediately comment.

At a summit last month, other European leaders blasted Orban over legislation they say discriminates against gay and transgender people. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told him to respect EU values ​​or to leave the bloc. Read more

Orban, in power since 2010 and facing elections next April, presents himself as a defender of traditional Christian values ​​against Western liberalism.

He owes part of his electoral success to a hard line against immigration, but as this topic has ceased to dominate the agenda, he has nailed his colors to issues of gender and sexuality.

“There are hardly any migrants in Hungary, while there are a lot of LGBTQ people, and people sensitive to this issue,” said Zoltan Novak, analyst at the think tank Center for Fair Political Analysis.

The new amendments, which have caused anxiety among the LGBT community, ban the use of material deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change in schools, ostensibly as a measure to prevent abuse against the children.

Orban gave no date for the referendum but said it would contain five questions.

Hungarians will be asked if they support holding workshops on sexual orientation in schools without parental consent, and whether they think gender reassignment procedures should be encouraged among children, Orban said.

They will also be asked whether content that may affect sexual orientation should be shown to children without any restrictions, and whether gender reassignment procedures should be made available to children.

As Orban unveiled his plans, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, vying with other opposition candidates to become Orban’s challenger in next year’s election, announced a plan to attempt to organize a referendum by April on main government policies.

These include the project to build a Chinese university in Budapest and the award of a 35-year concession to manage approximately 2,000 km (1,200 miles) of highways and public roads. Read more

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Timothy Heritage and Kevin Liffey

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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