Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced plans to call a referendum on a controversial LGBTQ law after the European Commission launched legal action against his government over the measure.
The legislation, which came into effect this month, bans the use of materials seen as promoting homosexuality and gender change at schools. It has caused anxiety among Hungary’s LGBTQ community, drawn scorn across Europe and increased friction between the Hungarian government and the commission, the European Union’s executive arm.
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Escalating Hungary’s battle with the commission as he announced the planned referendum, Orban on Wednesday accused the body of abusing its powers by launching last week an infringement procedure against the legislation, which could hold up EU funding for Hungary.
“The future of our children is at stake, so we cannot cede ground in this issue,” Orban said in a video posted on Facebook.
“In the past weeks, Brussels has clearly attacked Hungary over its child protection law. Hungarian laws do not permit sexual propaganda in kindergartens, schools, on television and in advertisements,” he added.
Orban urges Hungarians to vote ‘No’
The law has been billed by Hungary’s government as a way to protect children, but opponents argue that it conflates paedophilia with homosexuality and stigmatises LGBTQ people.
Orban, a hardline nationalist, did not announce when the planned referendum would be held but said it would be comprised of five questions.
These would include asking Hungarians whether they support the holding of sexual orientation workshops in schools without their consent, or whether they believe gender reassignment procedures should be promoted among children.
Orban said the questions would also include whether the content that could affect children’s sexual orientation should be shown without any restrictions, or that gender reassignment procedures should be made available to children as well.
He urged all participants to answer “No” to the questions.
The prime minister, who has been in power since 2010 and faces an election next April, portrays himself as a defender of traditional Christian values from Western liberalism.
He has grown increasingly radical on social policy in recent times, railing against LGBTQ people, migrants and refugees as part of his self-styled illiberal approach to governance.
EU slams bill as a ‘disgrace’
The European Commission did not immediately comment on Orban’s plan to hold a referendum.
The body has said the law violates EU rules on rights to freedom of expression, as well as free trade and provision of services.
Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has previously called the bill a “disgrace” and said the EU executive would use “all powers available” to force Hungary to repeal or modify the law.
The infringement procedure brought forward by the body involves several steps and could drag out over years to ultimately go to the European Court of Justice, which could impose financial penalties.
Hungary has two months to respond to the arguments put forward by the commission before the procedure enters the next stage.