Orban’s Clash With EU Over LGBTQ Rights Spills Onto Soccer Field

Viktor Orban clashed with leaders in the European Union over LGBTQ rights, exposing a widening rift between Hungary’s nationalist prime minister and the rest of the bloc.

The EU’s executive signaled on Wednesday it would begin legal proceedings against Hungary over a controversial law aimed at curtailing LGBTQ content. Orban and European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen traded criticism, with each calling comments from the other a “shame.”

The tit-for-tat came as pressure builds on EU leaders to stand up to Orban after Hungary’s parliament approved legislation last week outlawing content for children that can be deemed to “promote homosexuality.”

The bill, which pairs the LGBTQ community with pedophilia, extends legislation adopted last year that effectively bans same-sex partners from adopting children and enshrines in the constitution that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The reaction was furious in western European capitals. On Tuesday, 13 EU governments said the legislation “represents a flagrant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.”

The controversy intensified after it spilled onto the soccer pitch during the continent’s EURO 2020 soccer championship, with tournament organizer UEFA denying a request by authorities in Germany to light up the stadium in Munich rainbow colors.

Still, officials in the host city decorated city hall with rainbow flags. Orban, an avowed soccer fanatic who rarely misses a showing by the national team, ended up canceling a planned visit to the match to cheer on Hungary against Germany Wednesday evening, according to a person familiar with the planning.

“The Hungarian bill is a shame,” Von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. “I will use all the powers of the commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed, whoever you are and wherever you live.”

Orban insisted that the new legislation doesn’t undermine LGBTQ rights and is in line with EU rules.

“The European Commission president’s statement is a shame because it’s based on false premises,” Orban said in a statement of his own.

The EU’s legal proceedings are just the start of long-drawn court process that will have no immediate impact on Hungary, but the move adds to signs that the European Commission plans to toughen its stance when assessing whether Hungary and regional ally Poland have descended into authoritarianism.

Later this year, the EU’s executive arm may propose the freezing of payments from the bloc’s jointly financed stimulus program and common budget toward the two countries governed by hard right populist parties.

The move would be especially risky for Orban, who is counting on EU funds to jump-start the economy ahead of the tightest parliamentary elections since his return to power over a decade ago.

Orban is facing a united opposition for the first time since 2010, with opposition leaders pledging to restore democratic checks and balances if they manage to oust the four-term leader next year.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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