Sunday

25th Jul 2021

Opinion

LGBT rights at stake in Georgia election

  • Orthodox wedding. LGBT campaigners aren't even calling for same sex marriages in Georgia (Photo: Tony Bowden)

Imagine a small eastern European country that has suffered several conflicts and political crises in the past 25 years and that still faces an existential threat from its neighbour. 

Imagine that people who live there say their daily problems are unemployment, poverty, inflation, and low pensions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarch behind Georgian Dream, championed gay rights back in 2013 (Photo: EUobserver)

What do you think the top political party’s election campaign would focus on? Security? The economy? Or a crackdown on LGBT rights? 

That country is Georgia and that party is the Georgian Dream, which is vying to amend Georgia’s constitution in order to define marriage as an act between a man and a woman only. 

It’s even more bizarre if you consider that, under current Georgian law, same sex couples cannot marry anyway. This issue is regulated by the civil code and amending the constitution would not make a big difference. 

Indeed, every LGBT human rights group in Georgia has made it clear that marriage equality is not something that they are fighting for today. 

With LGBT people in Georgia fearing first and foremost for their day-to-day personal safety, marriage equality is a rather distant goal. 

But despite that, government proxies, who lobby on the marriage issue, are becoming increasingly hysterical, saying that LGBT communities threaten to destroy traditional Georgian values. 

Georgia’s parliamentary elections are on 8 October, but the government has been fighting for the constitutional change for some time. 

The Georgian Orthodox Church is its main ally. Its delegates have attended all the meetings of the relevant parliamentary committees and it’s no secret that the Church is the strongest protagonist of anti-LGBT feeling in the country. 

Referendum on human rights

Georgian Dream proxies at one point collected 200,000 signatures to put the marriage issue to a referendum. 

The president rejected this, on grounds that any referendum without the participation of the Russia-occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be unlawful. 

LGBT activists like me thought that would be the end of it. But the PM, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, has promised that if Georgian Dream won the election, it would put the constitutional amendment back on the table.

The EU has in the past commended Georgia on its reforms. 

But the fact is that Georgian Dream has failed to lift out of poverty the 70 percent of Georgians who live below that line, and it appears that they are now playing the anti-LGBT card to appeal to conservative voters.

When your party goes bankrupt, politically speaking, it’s helpful to distract people from your own failures by designating an enemy.

In this case, that enemy is one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in Georgian society. 

Georgian Dream, which claims to be pro-European, appears not to have seen the danger of putting minority rights to a referendum. 

Orthodox Georgian society is one of the most homophobic in Europe and giving people a new pretext to attack the LGBT community is reckless. 

Silent liberals

The sad thing is, that due to the strong influence of the church and the level of hatred toward queer people in Georgia, smaller political parties, which are otherwise quite liberal, are afraid to speak out against Georgian Dream’s homophobic project. 

A year ago, when Greece legalised civil unions for same-sex couples, prime minister Alexis Tsipras apologised to Greek LGBT citizens for having denied them their rights in the past.

Tsipras won’t be the last leader in that position, as queer people come to enjoy more freedom and better protection around the world.

Until now, most Georgian politicians have failed to understand that, one day, they will wake up on the wrong side of the history.

Giorgi Tabagari is a Georgian LGBT activist and former journalist, currently based in Warsaw

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Defending human rights in Georgia

Earlier this month, a small gathering by LGBTI activists was met with a 20,000-strong protest march in Tbilisi. The clashes highlighted the resistance to change in some parts of Georgian society, but they also demonstrated that change is afoot.

Why aren't EU's CSDP missions working?

The EU deploys thousands of advisers to its missions abroad. Without addressing reform as a profoundly political struggle, however, the EU will remain successful only in operational advisory and trainings.

News in Brief

  1. Macron changes phone after Pegasus spyware revelations
  2. Italy to impose 'vaccinated-only' entry on indoor entertainment
  3. EU 'will not renegotiate' Irish protocol
  4. Brussels migrants end hunger strike
  5. Elderly EU nationals in UK-status limbo after missed deadline
  6. WHO: 11bn doses needed to reach global vaccination target
  7. EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021
  8. Spain ends outdoor mask-wearing despite surge

Ukraine - Zelensky's authoritarian turn?

President Volodymyr Zelensky has begun his third year mired in mid-term unpopularity with a poll showing only 21.8 percent of Ukrainians would vote to re-elect him. More than half would prefer him not even to run for a second term.

Why the EU delay on supply chains? Corporate lobbying

EU legislation to clean up supply chains and corporate governance has been delayed after fierce industry lobbying. Voluntary commitments have repeatedly failed, now it is time for decisive regulatory action.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. Far left and right MEPs less critical of China and Russia
  2. Why is offshore wind the 'Cinderella' of EU climate policy?
  3. Open letter from 30 embassies ahead of Budapest Pride
  4. Orbán counters EU by calling referendum on anti-LGBTI law
  5. Why aren't EU's CSDP missions working?
  6. Romania most keen to join eurozone
  7. Slovenia risks court over EU anti-graft office
  8. Sweden's gang and gun violence sets politicians bickering

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us