Monday, April 25, 2011

Danger for Women, Queers In Hungary

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

While the world watches people in North Africa and the Middle East struggle for democratic reform, Christian extremists in Hungary have been busy unraveling them.

Hungary's new constitution, recently approved and slated to go into effect in January 2012, is a particular triumph for demagogues, grafters, and bigots of all stripes. Railroaded through parliament by the right-wing party Fidesz, which seized control last year with an unprecedented two-thirds parliamentary majority, it declares Hungary a Christian nation in the first few lines, and goes on from there to beef up presidential powers, and undermine rights for LGBT people and women.

Article M of the constitution reads that "Hungary protects the institution of marriage between man and woman, a matrimonial relationship voluntarily established, as well as the family as the basis for the survival of the nation."

That clause not only bans future and full equality in marriage, but seems to lay the groundwork to challenge the 1996 law recognizing inheritance and pension rights for common-law marriage for couples of any orientation, and the 2007 law that allows same-sex couples to officially register as partners, getting most of the same rights as heterosexual spouses except for the notable exceptions of adoption and artificial insemination.

The constitution also attacks abortion rights by declaring: "Human dignity is inviolable. Everyone has the right to life and human dignity. The life of a fetus will be protected from conception." Paired with law declaring the (heterosexual) family as the "basis for the survival of the nation," rogue women and queers could easily be considered enemies of the state.

The new constitution also rewards heterosexual people with extra votes in the bizarre provision that parents can vote on behalf of their underage children. For instance, if a couple has seven or eight kids, that's how many votes they'll be able to cast. Parents with no kids, or queers who have chosen not to spawn will be left out in the cold. This unequal representation is only one of the many provisions that is getting scrutiny from the European Union's constitutional law advisory body. Ironic, since Hungary holds the EU presidency this year.

József Szájer, one of the Constitution's three authors, member of the majority party, and vice-president of the center-right European People's Party group in the EU assembly asserts that Hungary's new constitution is absolutely in line with the values of the Union. He even translated the constitution's clause about Hungary's historic commitment to defending EU values. "We don't say that, but that would mean our fights with the Turks in the Middle Ages to the 1956 revolution, when European values have been defended," he said.

And at a moment when the new government has raided pension funds and imposed crisis taxes on banks, the energy and telecom sectors, and retail companies, the constitution strips the highest courts of the right to provide independent oversight of the budget. It also allows the President to dissolve parliament if a budget is not approved.

For lesbians and gay men, the new fascistic, Christian regime outlined in the constitution seems to signal the end of an era of relative tolerance, and the beginning of antigay campaign designed not only to prevent gains, but roll back existing ones. In the U.S., at the height of the "Culture War" in the early nineties, when antidiscrimination gains were battled all over the country, we learned that homophobic crusades have consequences far beyond overturning a few laws. Physical attacks and harassment multiply. So do murders.

Last week, a study in Oregon showed that you didn't even have to have active antigay campaigns to impact LGBT kids. It was enough to live in a politically conservative area for suicide attempts by gay teens to increase compared to kids in areas defined as progressive. Researchers used an index rating the percentage of same-sex couples, Democrats, liberal views, gay-straight alliances, and anti-bullying and antidiscrimination policies.

What's interesting is that living in more conservative districts also led to more suicide attempts by straight students. It makes sense. The less visible diversity is, the more pressure to conform. At an age pretty much characterized by insecurity, fear and self-loathing, that can as easily turn outwards into bullying somebody lower on the totem pole, as it can towards self-harm and suicide.

In Hungary, fighting back is going to be tough. Since the Fidesz party was elected last April, they've not only been busy writing a new constitution, but taking over previously independent organizations, and creating a media council with the mandate to impose huge fines on media outlets for indefinable crimes like offending "human dignity."

The future of women and queers in Hungary depends a lot on how long the relatively independent media holds out, and whether or not the Christian extremist Fidesz party comes through on promises to reduce Hungary's 45 percent unemployment rates.

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