Several European Union leaders insisted Thursday that discrimination must not be tolerated in the 27-nation bloc, setting the scene for a heated summit over new legislation in Hungary that would ban showing content about LGBT issues to children.
Hungary’s parliament passed the bill last week, but it must be endorsed by the president to take effect. It prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to people under 18 in school sex education programs, films or advertisements.
The government says it will protect children, but critics say it links homosexuality with pedophilia.
Speaking upon arrival at the meeting in Brussels, Hungary’s Prime minister Viktor Orban ruled out withdrawing the law, insisting it does not target homosexuals.
“It’s not about homosexuality, it’s about the kids and the parents,” Orban said, portraying himself as a protector of homosexuals.
“I’m a freedom fighter in the Communist regime. Homosexuality was punished and I fought for their freedom and their rights,” he said. “I am defending the rights of homosexual guys but this law is not about them.”
The issue has turned a harsh spotlight on the EU’s inability to rein in the “illiberal democracies” among its ranks like Hungary and Poland, whose deeply conservative, nationalist and anti-migrant governments have flouted the bloc’s democratic standards and values for years.
It’s also taken center stage at Europe’s premier international soccer tournament, where the continent’s governing soccer body UEFA rejected host city Munich’s plans to display rainbow colors during a match between Germany and Hungary at the European Championship on Wednesday evening.
In their coordinated messages on Twitter, several EU leaders wrote that “hate, intolerance and discrimination have no place in our Union. That’s why, today and every day, we stand for diversity and LGBTI equality so that our future generations can grow up in a Europe of equality and respect.”
Many attached a letter to their tweets addressed to European Council President Charles Michel, who will host their summit later Thursday, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will also take part in the meeting.
“Respect and tolerance are at the core of the European project. We are committed to carry on with this effort, making sure that future European generations grow up in an atmosphere of equality and respect,” said the letter, signed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, among others.
Hungary was not mentioned by name, but many of the same leaders signed a letter earlier this week backed by 17 countries calling on von der Leyen’s commission, which watches over the respect of EU laws, to take the government in Budapest to the European Court of Justice over the bill.
The commission has already taken the first step in legal action. On Wednesday, Brussels sent a letter to Hungary’s justice minister seeking “clarifications, explanation and information” about elements of the bill.
It said that some provisions appear to “directly violate the prohibition of discrimination based on sex and on sexual orientation,” and would put homosexuality, sex change and divergence from self-identity “on the same footing as pornography.”
Asked Thursday about the Hungarian bill, Guterres said “all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable and obviously any form of discrimination in relation to LGBTQ+ people are totally unacceptable.”
Speaking after a meeting with Guterres, EU Parliament president David Sassoli said a mechanism making payouts to Hungary from a COVID-19 recovery fund conditional to the respect of the rule of law should be activated.
“The time has come now for the law to get applied,” Sassoli said.