Hungary is moving to effectively ban adoption by same-sex couples as Viktor Orban’s far-right government seeks to shore up support among nationalists as tough new coronavirus restrictions come into force.
The legislation would mean that only married couples can freely adopt, while single people would only be eligible after applying for special permission from the minister in charge of family affairs.
Hungary does not allow gay marriage, so the bill tabled by Hungarian parliament's Justice Committee effectively closes a loophole used by same-sex couples in which one partner could apply to adopt a child as a single person.
If approved, it will come into law in January 2021.
The legislation is part of a strategy by the ruling nationalists to appeal to their base by turning to anti-LGBT+ rhetoric as the pandemic hits the economy, with one eye on the 2022 elections.
On Wednesday Hungary, the third hardest hit country in Europe in terms of coronavirus deaths per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, entered a partial lockdown lasting for at least 30 days.
A proposed constitutional amendment published on Tuesday also required children to be raised with a “Christian interpretation” of gender roles
The draft amendment submitted to parliament by justice minister Judit Varga declared children must be guaranteed an "upbringing based on values stemming from Hungary's ... Christian culture”.
"The basis for family relations is marriage," it said. "The mother is a woman, the father is a man."
Hungarian LGBT+ rights group the Hatter Society said the move to limit adoption had been timed to coincide with a ban on protest as a result of coronavirus restrictions, meaning those affected would be unable to effectively voice dissent.
“The bill follows several government politicians speaking up against adoption by same-sex couples in the last two years,” the organisation said.
“The government will now try to codify its discriminatory views in law.
"The timing is no coincidence: the proposals that severely limit legal rights and go against basic international and European human rights ... were submitted at a time when ... protests are not allowed.”
Critics of prime minister Mr Orban's government have accused him of trying to distract voters from his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic with attacks on minority groups.
Viktória Radványi, an organiser of Budapest Pride – which Istvan Boldog, the deputy chairman of ruling party Fidesz, has argued should be abolished – wrote last month that the government was in search of “a topic that will shift people’s focus to a ‘public enemy’”.
In an article for 4Liberty, she wrote: “The beginning of 2020 was dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, so Fidesz had to temporarily stop looking for a campaign topic. Now it seems it became a high priority again to find the topic they will build their populist campaign on until the next parliamentary elections in April 2022.”
LGBT+ advocacy group ILGA-Europe also condemned the move and called on the EU to “hold Hungary accountable to its human rights commitments”.
Mr Orban faces the biggest challenge to his decade in power from the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impact on Hungary.
Nearby Poland's ruling nationalist PiS party made homophobia a key plank of its campaign in an election this year.
Last week, Hungary’s deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjen, defended the proposal to enshrine in the country’s constitution a ban on “gender propaganda”.
“They should not be called family, because that is a sacred notion,” Semjen said. “They should not adopt children, because children’s right to healthy development is stronger than homosexual couples’ need for a child.”
In May, Hungary's parliament approved a law that banned trangender people from changing the gender they were assigned at birth on personal documents, such as passports.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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