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26th Feb 2017

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Hungary and Finland in uphill battle for gay rights

Gay communities in Hungary and Finland are facing uphill battles for equal rights with conservative politicians in both countries imposing barriers.

Hungarian children as young as 10 are being told homosexuality is a “deadly sin” in a state-backed religious textbook.

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  • Onlookers at the Gay Pride march in Budapest last year, the next demonstration is set for early July (Photo: habeebee)

The courses on religion, introduced into the curriculum by the Hungarian government last year, are not compulsory.

But biology is.

Hungarian adolescents in a biology textbook are also being taught homosexuality is a mental disorder linked to HIV/Aids, venereal disease, and risky behaviour, according to the Budapest-based NGO for LGBTI rights, Hatter.

“This is biology, this is not religious education, this is what you get in core scientific subjects in the book the government recommends for schools,” says Tamas Dombos, a project co-ordinator and board member at Hatter.

The American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. The World Health Organization followed suite in 1990.

A report on LGBTI rights in each member state out on Tuesday (13 May) by Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based gay rights NGO, notes that Hungary’s commissioner for fundamental rights at the time, Mate Szabo, criticised the school curriculum for not mentioning sexual minorities.

Szabo also raised concerns that children opted into religious studies by their parents would not receive a proper education on human rights.

“Hungarian LGBTI people suffered from a general climate of increased fear and violence towards all minorities,” notes the Ilga report.

For the gay community in the country, the struggle for equal rights and recognition remains an uphill battle. Few dare wander about holding hands in Budapest.

Hungary’s radical nationalist Jobbik party may have scaled back their homophobic rhetoric at the political level but can still be seen shouting abuse at events like Gay Pride, notes Dombos.

Centre-right leader Viktor Orban, for his part, has largely succeeded in advancing conservative values, which tends to exclude gay people.

Over the years he has overhauled the constitution four times and amid much controversy. The constitution's new preamble makes reference to God, Christianity, family and the Holy Crown.

But while Hungary has registered-partnership legislation for same-sex partners, the latest constitutional iteration spells out marriage as one between a man and a woman.

It also restricts the notion of family by reducing the rights of same sex couples who live together.

Hungary is not alone when it comes to government-led limitations, which spin a conservative definition of marriage.

Finland isolated among more progressive countries

Surrounded by more progressive Scandinavian countries, Finland stands out as an anomaly.

“Usually what we say is that what happens in Sweden will happen in Finland in ten years or so,” says Aija Salo, secretary-general of the Helsinki-based NGO for LGBTI rights, Seta.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Sweden in 2009, along with Norway. Denmark followed in 2012.

Despite high public support for equal marriage rights, the legal committee in the Finnish parliament narrowly rejected a marriage equality bill earlier last year.

Salo says most conservative politicians oppose the equal marriage measures, while other conservatives won’t take a stand in support in fear they’ll be voted out of office.

“Unfortunately there are opponents to equal marriage in all the bigger parties,” she adds.

A citizen’s initiative launched last March in favour of equal marriage rights collected some 170,000 signatures.

Finnish law requires the parliament to review any initiative with at least 50,000 signatures.

But the initiative is stuck in the legal committee and is not advancing.

“The more conservative members of the legal committee are trying to postpone it as much as possible so that it won’t come into vote before the next elections [April 2015],” said Salo.

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