Why is Lithuania set to punish the ‘public promotion of homosexual relations’?

In 2010, citing “security”, Lithuanian authorities attempted to prevent a Gay Pride march in Vilnius. This march nevertheless went ahead and history was made. The Pride march was the first since Lithuania’s legalisation of homosexuality in 1993. Sadly – predictably – it was also disrupted by homophobes, despite a heavy police presence on the streets, but it was an important achievement nonetheless.

Recently though there has been a worrying development. A draft law currently under review by Lithuanian national authorities plans to punish the “public promotion of homosexual relations”, applying fines of up to €2900 (£2433).

This is a shambolic insult to the European LGBT community, but it’s also a part of a dangerous trend in Europe – the rising tide of polemics, populism, nationalism, discrimination and far-right agitation that, far from being obvious and easy to confront, is burrowing its way into acceptable, mainstream politics.

But first things first: opposing this individual law.

From the European Parliament, I authored a resolution on LGBT rights in Lithuania. This resolution made it clear just how unacceptable the proposed law is, both morally and legally. On January 19th the resolution was voted through the parliament, despite a centre-right majority.

That’s because the resolution stated the obvious. Lithuania has been a member state of the European Union since 2004. By joining the EU, it obliged itself to adopt those fundamental values and laws necessary for any functioning democracy. That means respecting equality. It also means promoting it. The EU is the leading advocate for human rights in the world. We cannot have one member state authorise an unacceptable form of institutionalised discrimination at home. It’s illegal, immoral and impractical to the point of being ridiculous; defining the “public promotion of homosexual relations” is – if considered – a dangerously far-reaching task.

We need be mindful of three things: where homophobic sentiments could lead in Lithuania; how such homophobic sentiments can damage Europe’s international standing; and how anti-LGBT campaigns are part of a wider problem in Europe – an amalgamation of the ideas, politics and goals of the European far and mainstream right.

If lawmakers in individual member states feel it is their legal prerogative to discriminate against minorities – be they the Roma in France, or LGBT communities in Lithuania and Serbia – we have a problem. With economic hardship still experienced by many in Europe, we must confront any slow normalisation of discrimination as an acceptable response to national underperformance or austerity. Not doing so now would allow this kind of discourse to become the norm, resulting in a new, populist right that discriminates using the full power of the law in good times or in bad.

by Claude Moraes MEP
Source – LabourList