Homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Hungary

György Bolgár’s Let’s Talk It Over is a liberal talk show with a huge fan club. I myself rarely miss it. Bolgár comes up with topics that he finds interesting or important and usually adds a comment with a question mark at the end. Today I learned that Ferenc Gyurcsány visited Viktor Orbán’s old dormitory, the István Bibó Kollégium, yesterday. Only students of the college could attend the informal talk. Soon enough a recording of the talk was in the hands of Magyar NemzetThe paper made sure that at least one minute of Gyurcsány’s talk was shared with the readers and presented it as a second Balatonőszöd speech.

What was it that, according to Magyar Nemzet, was such a sin that it can only be compared to the speech that effectively ended Gyurcsány’s premiership? The former prime minister told his audience that his views on cultural matters, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and choice of identity are extremely liberal. “Just to shock you, we are the only party that supports the marriage of same-sex couples and their right to adopt children.” He added that the only reason DK didn’t propose a bill to this effect was because “the socialists would have had hiccups” if they did. The conclusion of Magyar Nemzet was that just as Gyurcsány didn’t reveal the whole truth about the state of the economy before the 2006 election he isn’t revealing the whole truth about the opposition’s position today. If they win the election the Unity coalition will introduce an outrageous bill on same-sex marriage and will have the majority to pass it.

György Bolgár tacked on his usual question to this piece of news, asking his audience whether it was a wise move of Gyurcsány to touch on this “delicate” subject in the middle of the election campaign. The current constitution states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The discussion of the subject even in the relatively moderate right-wing press, for example Heti Válasz, shows such a combination of ignorance, antagonism, and false information that one is inclined to think that bringing up the subject was anything but wise politically. Only yesterday Heti Válasz came out with an article headlined “Two Fidesz EU members voted for the proposal of the gay lobbyists.” One can sense surprise or perhaps even outrage that such a scandalous vote could occur in the EU’s Fidesz caucus. The story is a bit old since it was on February 14 that the proposal was endorsed by a large majority of the European Parliament, but I guess better later than never. In the article, according to the short description of it available on the Internet, the proposal among other things “would make it compulsory to spread the popularity of homosexuality already in kindergartens and the member states would be forced to adopt same-sex marriage.” The article mentions that a most likely homophobic civil group, CitizenGO, was collecting signatures to make sure that the proposal would never be adopted. They failed. The rapporteur of the proposal was Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green EP, who is a lesbian activist. Heti Válasz revealed the names of the two Fidesz renegades who voted for the bill. They turned out to be József Szájer and Lívia Járóka. I’m not surprised. Although Szájer is  married, it seems to be widely known that he is actually gay. And Járóka, who is of Roma origin, might be more sensitive to discrimination than the average Fidesz EP.

If the so-called moderate Fidesz outlet, Heti Válasz, takes the unfounded rumors about the propagation of homosexuality and compulsory introduction of gay marriage in the member states at face value, you can imagine what the other right-wing publications say on the subject. But when you actually look at the “Report on the EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” it is a moderate document designed to have easy passage. It simply opposes discrimination and wants to ensure the equality of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. Heti Válasz‘s reporter obviously didn’t even bother to read the document.

So, Bolgár’s question was justified. Was it wise for Ferenc Gyurcsány to bring the topic up at all? Was he again careless and rash? After all, he is now a member of a team that is supposed to show unity. And one of the problems of “Összefogás” is that voters don’t see the kind of unity its name implies. So, I would say, no, it was not a wise thing to do. Not that I don’t sympathize with his position. I do, but with this statement he is opening himself up for another attack from Magyar Nemzet. One can say that it really doesn’t matter what he says or doesn’t, his opponents shower the most outrageous attacks on him anyway. One could say that politicians don’t always have to cater to public sentiment. But there’s a reason that most politicians try to align themselves with the views of their potential voters.

In the United States where state governments and courts as well as the federal government and the Supreme Court are moving to extend rights to the LGBT community, the majority supports the idea of same-sex marriage (54% in 2013). In Hungary according to the latest poll (2007) it is only 30%. If I had to guess, due to Fidesz and Christian Democratic propaganda that number may be lower by now. For instance, anti-gay propaganda can be heard on M1 (Kossuth Rádió) where a long conversation took place about whether homosexuality is a sin. Heti Válasz severely criticized the United States for launching a campaign aimed at Putin’s anti-gay Russia It was no more than hysterics, the paper claimed. An innocent sporting event became the victim of politics. Heti Válasz was on solid political ground on two fronts. It could support the conservative religious position advocated by the government and, now that Hungary and Russia are such good friends, it could come out squarely on the side of Putin’s discriminatory laws against gays.

In any case, Gyurcsány felt that he had to explain himself more fully and therefore gave a press conference today. He didn’t retreat. He repeated that his party is in favor of same-sex marriage but they are in the minority within Összefogás. Just as they are in the minority on the issues of dual citizenship and Hungary’s current arrangement with the Vatican. He added that, if Összefogás wins, DK will not put in a draft bill on the issue of same-sex marriage because they disapprove of the Fidesz practice of legislation by individual MP’s proposals. The government will prepare draft bills to be discussed in parliament and DK there will be in the minority. On the other hand, he added, if Fidesz wins DK in opposition following their heartfelt conviction will put in a such a proposal.

As for the callers to Bolgár’s program, there was one who disapproved of Gyurcsány’s comments and not just for political reasons. He thought that children who are brought up in same-sex households will become homosexuals themselves. On the other hand, a father phoned in who told his family’s story. They found out when their son was 18 years old that he is gay. He has been living with his partner. A friend of theirs, a woman, was left high and dry by the man who impregnated her. It was his son who was present at the birth and the two of them are something of father substitutes for the little boy. He almost wept, and when Bolgár suggested that gay people are just as good as heterosexuals, he said, “No, they are better.”

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72 comments

  1. HiBoM :

    Bowen :
    I am very very curious to see whether there will be any form of mass protest after the elections (vis-a-vis the Orange Revolution).

    Unless the opposition win a huge amounts of votes, I can’t see what grounds there could be for mass protests. And as things stand, it looks like Fidesz is going to win the votes. That will be bitterly disappointing but provides no justification for mass protests.

    Well, if you read Kim Scheppele’s study I don’t think that it is that simple.

  2. I have read it and if it were to happen that the opposition parties were to win more votes and Fidesz still be returned with a large majority, then yes, protests would be justified. But realistically, that is not going to happen unless all the opinion polls of the last four years have been completely wrong (which is not inconceivable.) But unless there is that sort of clear arithmetical injustice, I can’t see mass protests happening, or even being justifable (at least to the Hungarian electorate as a whole)

  3. HiBoM :
    I have read it and if it were to happen that the opposition parties were to win more votes and Fidesz still be returned with a large majority, then yes, protests would be justified. But realistically, that is not going to happen unless all the opinion polls of the last four years have been completely wrong (which is not inconceivable.) But unless there is that sort of clear arithmetical injustice, I can’t see mass protests happening, or even being justifable (at least to the Hungarian electorate as a whole)

    Although, have polls not consistently demonstrated that most people are not fond or Orban, and are not happy about the way the country is going?

    It just so happens, that (luckily for Orban) the united opposition does not seem an attractive or viable option for many voters, either.

    However, I would find it very troubling if, after an election which has been engineered precisely to favour Fidesz (regardless of whether it wins the most votes or not), where several hundreds of thousands of voters are discriminated against, where the media and advertising space allows no dissenting voice, and where we may never actually find out precisely how many people voted, that Hungarians would simply shrug, and carry on grumbling under their breath.

  4. Bowen, I agree with you in principal but I don’t think psychologically people would be able to take to the streets en masse just because the system seemed unfair. They should have done so BEFORE the election and they haven’t.

  5. Well, they took to the streets two years ago outside the Opera House. But then they went home. Were they all really more worried about catching a cold? And why did the opposition allow the feeling to dissipate? Or did that big crowd feel too intimidated (re: photographs, identification and threats) to ever return?

    Also, it surely hardly matters whether you’re in a super-majority or a super-minority – the tyranny of either is unacceptable, and if your basic rights are being trampled upon then your protest is important and valid.

  6. @Ivan: Well, I think they went home because Orban intimidated the opposition with the (paid) Peace Marches. The momentum of the democratic opposition got lost there.

    The opposition seems to be accepting the rules set by Orban&Co and decided to participate in the unfair elections. There are two routes in theory to challenge Orban’s regime. One is participating in the elections and the other is challenging the status quo by organizing mass demonstrations and taking politics to the streets. These two require two different sets of strategies, and the opposition parties decided to go with the former. True that, they still could try to mobilize supporters with mass rallies during their election campaign, and they should… I think it is difficult as apathy pretty much set in in Hungary.

    This is really unfortunate, as Orban’s support is really not as strong as it was two years ago; the marches and meetings are getting less and less enthusiastic on the Fidesz side, too. If the opposition could put together a big rally like two years ago, I don’t think Fidesz could match it again.

  7. HiBoM :
    Bowen, I agree with you in principal but I don’t think psychologically people would be able to take to the streets en masse just because the system seemed unfair. They should have done so BEFORE the election and they haven’t.

    Saying that the system in Hungary is ‘unfair’ is somewhat inappropriate. It’s not quite like – well, some people have better access to education than others, or some people have higher disposable incomes, and so on. The system has been meticulously rigged for one purpose – keeping Orban in place. And if it ends up at the detriment of the economy, education, health, human rights, then so be it. The system isn’t ‘unfair’ – it’s wholly organised towards one single aim.

    Psychologically, there has been a quorum of people able to take to the streets ever since Orban began unilaterally rewriting Hungary’s direction (cf. the Opera house demonstration, the gatherings at Szabad Sajto utca). Much of this took place without the presence of a solid political alternative to Fidesz, Perhaps many people are waiting to see what happens in April with this contest between Fidesz and Unity.

    We can debate the reasons why this protest has dissipated recently (e.g. the breaking down of Milla, the Peace March hijacking of the protest narrative). But Orban has been busy restructuring the country so that if you don’t sign yourself up for his ‘Team Hungary’ then you are disenfranchised and voiceless – election included. Which is why it *would* trouble me if there were no protest after April.

  8. You quote: same-sex marriage support “in Hungary according to the latest poll (2007) it is only 30%.”

    There is a more recent review on human rights situation of LGBTQ people in Europe. According to the 2013 Rainbow Europe Map based on 46 aspects, Hungary has 55% while Germany 54%, Austria 43%, Czech Republic, 35% Switzerland 29% and Italy 19(!)%:
    http://www.ilga-europe.org/media_library/ilga_europe/publications/reports_and_other_publications/rainbow_map_2013/map

  9. Ivan :
    Well, they took to the streets two years ago outside the Opera House. But then they went home. Were they all really more worried about catching a cold? And why did the opposition allow the feeling to dissipate? Or did that big crowd feel too intimidated (re: photographs, identification and threats) to ever return?
    Also, it surely hardly matters whether you’re in a super-majority or a super-minority – the tyranny of either is unacceptable, and if your basic rights are being trampled upon then your protest is important and valid.

    Having attended that Opera House ‘demonstration’ (it was more of a gathering that happened to be very very large) I would imagine that it probably gave many people a true taste of what they were up against. Remember that this was a pompous event whereby the government congratulated its new constitution (which nobody had actually asked for, or been consulted with) in an ostentatious private party at the Opera.

    Firstly, it was virtually impossible to enter Andrassy. All the avenue and side streets were blocked off by huge police lines. If you could enter, it was only by arguing with the police. Secondly, the opera house itself was surrounded by riot troops, and fitted with floodlights directed *into* the faces of the demonstrators, so you couldn’t actually see it. There was also a large black wall erected in front of the Opera so that the special guests when arriving could do so without being troubled by the demonstrators. Also, infamously, this was reported on state TV with an empty Andrassy ut, and a reported saying ‘nothing to see here’ conveniently neglecting to point the camera at the 100,000 or so crammed into side streets.

    I suspect Hungary hadn’t seen a display of intimidation like this for a long time.

  10. Bowen :

    Ivan :
    Well, they took to the streets two years ago outside the Opera House. But then they went home. Were they all really more worried about catching a cold? And why did the opposition allow the feeling to dissipate? Or did that big crowd feel too intimidated (re: photographs, identification and threats) to ever return?
    Also, it surely hardly matters whether you’re in a super-majority or a super-minority – the tyranny of either is unacceptable, and if your basic rights are being trampled upon then your protest is important and valid.

    Having attended that Opera House ‘demonstration’ (it was more of a gathering that happened to be very very large) I would imagine that it probably gave many people a true taste of what they were up against. Remember that this was a pompous event whereby the government congratulated its new constitution (which nobody had actually asked for, or been consulted with) in an ostentatious private party at the Opera.
    Firstly, it was virtually impossible to enter Andrassy. All the avenue and side streets were blocked off by huge police lines. If you could enter, it was only by arguing with the police. Secondly, the opera house itself was surrounded by riot troops, and fitted with floodlights directed *into* the faces of the demonstrators, so you couldn’t actually see it. There was also a large black wall erected in front of the Opera so that the special guests when arriving could do so without being troubled by the demonstrators. Also, infamously, this was reported on state TV with an empty Andrassy ut, and a reported saying ‘nothing to see here’ conveniently neglecting to point the camera at the 100,000 or so crammed into side streets.
    I suspect Hungary hadn’t seen a display of intimidation like this for a long time.

    There will be no protests (at least no meaningful ones, and none outside Bp) because things aren’t bad enough, and people don’t really care enough. Those who might take to the streets won’t because they are ill-informed, isolated and intimidated. There will be no ‘Orange/Arab Spring’ type uprising because there isn’t a groundswell of serious dissatisfaction.

    We have to face the reality that for many Orbán is doing a good job, and for many others he’s not doing badly enough to make it worth protesting, especially as few people have any faith in the opposition being any better (and, looking back, can you blame them?).

    Hungarians voted Orbán in, and they haven’t yet decided to vote him out again – and they are certainly a long way from forcing him out.

  11. Eva S. Balogh :

    petofi :

    Looking at Bekement pics, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone under 50.

    That’s why many people think, myself included, that Fidesz hired young people to fill the stadium where Orbán gave his last “state of the nation” speech a couple of weeks ago. This would have been the first time. Think of March 15 2012 when students were paid to stand behind him.

    My exact thoughts. I mean there is Fidelitas but I did not see them marching…

  12. A cynic might say:

    The people’s situation in Hungary is bad – but not bad enough for rioting …

    Most people still manage somehow and hope that they (individually!) might come into a better position if they work hard enough and maybe have a little bit of luck. Nobody has to go hungry, most have a roof to sleep under etc, even if it’s not too good/big/modern etc.

    When we look at he houses in many villages we shudder – no repairs have been done for ages, no painting, no new insulating windows, and too many people have to burn coal or worse for heating, even though gas is available, it’s just too expensive.

    And don’t forget, our village is in the richer part of Hungary near Hévíz!

  13. The EU has provided Prime Minister Orban with a safety valve, it provides an exit path for more highly educated and economically energetic frustrated Hungarians who currently are the most explosive force in many emerging market economies. Remintances also provide some cushion for Hungarians.

    I don’t mean to degrade my own nationality, but I have seen estimates of the money being sent back to families in Hungary by sex workers and their boyfriend/pimps just from Germany that amazed me. Currently there a number of on going studies being done out of the Central European University of the Hungarian sex trade. If we add on to this far more significant money being sent back by professionally trained medical workers and thousands of others in a variety of fields we can see in a very odd way how the EU relationship that Orban supposedly opposes is a pillar of support for his regime.

    So there are factors that are reducing the likelyhood of some type of extra-electoral uprising in Hungary. But the country does not exist in a vacuum and the mass movements against other corrupt governments in other nations can be contagious. But once something like that starts the Jobbik could take the lead and the direction of any mass uprising could go in a very scary direction. Currently the right wing forces in the Ukaine are wielding enormous power, far more power than polling data would indicate they have in the Ukriane.

    It is very unlikely that an institutional party like the MSZP could lead the angry hordes into the streets.

  14. OT – but very bad news from Ukraine. Putin has authorised Russian troops to cross the border “until the situation is normalised”.

    Orbán could find Russian troops on his border – I bet he never considered that when he started toadying up to Putin.

  15. Paul :
    OT – but very bad news from Ukraine. Putin has authorised Russian troops to cross the border “until the situation is normalised”.
    Orbán could find Russian troops on his border – I bet he never considered that when he started toadying up to Putin.

    At this point the Russian troops would fight for him too (Orban). I am sure that Putin knows that if the opposition would win the election in Hungary, the contract with Paks would likely be reviewed. Imagine if Orban wins, and Hungarians would go to the street to protest against Orban after a cheated election? THe Russian tanks would roll in just like in 1956. The funny thing is that the Wittners and Orbans would welcome them by open arms at this time. As Orban famously said “You know I did not fight against the dictatorship in the 80s. I was fighting against those who were the leaders [in that dictatorship].” (November, 2012).

  16. TOTALLY OFF TOPIC, BUT UNBELIEVABLE.
    Hungary’s government is holding a competition to celebrate the 10th Year Anniversary of Hungary becoming member of the EU.
    People can submit essays, and short films too.
    I wonder of Orban or his best friend Bayer will send in little movies of their peace march against the EU. You must read it (it is Hungarian): http://eu.kormany.hu/palyazati-felhivasok

  17. Paul :

    OT – but very bad news from Ukraine. Putin has authorised Russian troops to cross the border “until the situation is normalised”.

    Orbán could find Russian troops on his border – I bet he never considered that when he started toadying up to Putin.

    You know, Paul, he is considered to be a lucky man but occasionally things don’t work out for him. This Russian-Ukrainian skirmish certainly make his newly-found friendship with Vladimir precarious.

  18. Eva S. Balogh :

    Uganda :
    ‘Secret Years’ – documentary about Hungarian lesbians living under freedom, oppression:
    http://blogs.presstelegram.com/outinthe562/2014/02/27/secret-years-documentary-about-hungarian-lesbians-living-under-freedom-oppression-screens-tonight-at-usc/

    Interesting. I have never heard of this documentary.

    Really? I am slightly offended. Not only I posted the title, but posted a video trailer on
    <blockquote
    February 17, 2014 at 7:12 pm | #9
    Also, there was a great Hungarian documentary from 2008, “Secret Years” directed Maria Takacs. It contains interviews with lesbian women who were already adults prior to the regime change.
    Here is the trailer with Hungarian subtitle:

  19. wolfi :
    A cynic might say:
    The people’s situation in Hungary is bad – but not bad enough for rioting …
    Most people still manage somehow and hope that they (individually!) might come into a better position if they work hard enough and maybe have a little bit of luck. Nobody has to go hungry, most have a roof to sleep under etc, even if it’s not too good/big/modern etc.
    When we look at he houses in many villages we shudder – no repairs have been done for ages, no painting, no new insulating windows, and too many people have to burn coal or worse for heating, even though gas is available, it’s just too expensive.
    And don’t forget, our village is in the richer part of Hungary near Hévíz!

    Wolfi – a cynic or a realist?

    As for your description of village problems, out East it’s been like that forever.

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