Hungary’s parliament approves referendum on LGBT issues

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s parliament authorized the government Tuesday to call a national referendum on LGBT issues, the latest in a series of steps by the country’s nationalist leaders that critics say are intended to limit minority rights.

Lawmakers from the governing Fidesz party approved four referendum questions pertaining to sex education programs in schools and the availability to children of information on sex reassignment.

The referendum will also ask voters whether they support the unrestricted presentation of media content that “influences the development of underage children.” Opposition lawmakers abstained from voting on the resolution.

The move came after Hungary’s government announced earlier this year that it would seek to hold a vote following an outcry over a law passed in June that banned the “depiction or promotion” of homosexuality or gender transition in materials available to minors.

The law was attached to a bill that allowed harsher penalties for pedophilia, and critics said it stigmatized LGBT people and limited their rights.

Hungary’s right-wing government has argued the measures protect children from what it calls “homosexual propaganda” and leave decisions on the sexual education of children solely in the hands of parents.

But human rights groups say the law puts LGBT people at risk, and many of Hungary’s partners in the European Union have decried it as homophobic. The EU’s executive commission launched two separate legal proceedings against Hungary’s government over what it called infringements on LGBT rights.

Based on newly adopted rules, the referendum can be held on the same day as a national election scheduled for the spring in which Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party are expected to face their toughest competition since coming to power in 2010.

The government says that holding the referendum on Election Day would save money. But critics contend the government is using the vote on LGBT issues as a publicly funded promotion of its policies.

On Monday, the head of Orban’s Cabinet office, Antal Rogan, told a parliamentary committee that the government would conduct a major campaign ahead of the referendum to convince voters to vote against “LGBTQ propaganda.”