Romania brings back ban on gays

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Less than two months before a general election, Romanian parliamentarians have outraged human-rights activists by seeking to recriminalise homosexuality between consenting adults.

An overwhelming majority of MPs in the lower house would like to see the reintroduction of legislation originally passed under the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, by which homosexuals could face up to five years in jail.

The London-based human rights group, Amnesty International, condemned the proposed new law as "a backwards step" which, if ratified, would be "the worst such law in Europe".

Other opponents say the law flies in the face of the Romanian government's promise to bring its legislation on homosexuals into line with more liberal European norms following its accession to the Council of Europe in 1993. "This is clearly an anti-European attitude that pays no respect to human rights," Cristian Radulescu, of the opposition Democratic Party, said.

A combination of the ruling Social Democracy Party, nationalists and the opposition Peasant Party ensured an overwhelming victory for reinstatement of the law in a parliamentary vote on Tuesday. The decision has to be approved by the Senate and President Ion Iliescu, which is unlikely to be completed before the elections in early November.

Much of the pressure for the law has come from Romania's Orthodox church, which condemns homosexuality as "the tyranny of selfish, barren passion". At its instigation, hundreds of thousands of Romanians have signed petitions calling for a return of the ban.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, all other countries in the region have decriminalised homosexuality.