Commision and council lagging on LGBT rights - claim MEPs
by Ulrike Lunacek and Michael Cashman
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are legally protected in the European Union, but prejudice still run deep and human rights obligations are increasingly being put aside – write Ulrike Lunacek and Michael Cashman
The European Parliament recently adopted a landmark resolution against homophobia in Europe – the vote was 430 MEPs for and 105 MEPs against. It is only the fourth time since 1979 that the parliament has raised these concerns so vocally, the last time being in 2007. So why adopt such a resolution now? Although we can safely say lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens are better legally protected in the European Union compared with any other world region, attitudes and prejudice still run deep - and human rights obligations under international treaties are increasingly being put aside.
When it comes to the European Union, we urge the European Commission and the European Council to propose or adopt three pieces of legislation - on hate crimes, non-discrimination and the free movement of same-sex families - and to work on a comprehensive policy roadmap for the rights of LGBT people; just as there are disability, women's rights and Roma equality roadmaps. A large majority of MEPs also considered, despite some criticism, that LGBT people will be better protected if their families can be recognised by the state - thanks to cohabitation, partnerships or marriage, as is already the case in 16 member states. This is a fundamental rights matter and not one that should be dictated by private moral concerns, voiced sometimes too loudly in the polity.
But more than new anti-discrimination laws and policies - we are acutely aware that the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are under growing, coordinated and serious attack. Indeed Eastern Europe has witnessed new laws that forbid the public discussion of homosexuality, especially - but not only - when minors are potentially present. Local and national politicians in Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia have proposed - and in some cases adopted - laws carrying fines of up to €12,700 and five-year prison terms; simply for saying that homosexuality is normal to a 16-year-old. Some, including heterosexual people, have already been fined under such laws.
These developments are in full breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and a case on the fairness of these laws will soon be examined by the Strasbourg court - Bayev v Russia. We hope that the 47-member Committee of Ministers will be strong and brave enough to uphold essential freedoms, even for those they may disapprove of. And as in every spring since 1970, pride marches are unfolding across the world. Yet as in previous years, organisers in Eastern Europe are running into more and more trouble as pride marches are considered 'immoral', 'dangerous for children', 'against public morality', or downright 'satanic' by some politicians like Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkhov. Whether or not gay prides are approved of, they are a colourful and keenly provocative form of protest and demands for equal rights. No European society too coy to cope with a rainbow flag on the street can claim to be free and open.
And, indeed, things slowly are getting better in some places. Earlier this month - the Baltic Pride in Riga, Latvia, gathered more than 500 marchers protected by the police from lonely extremists in the town centre. Latvian member of the European Commission Andris Piebalgs also took part in our powerful It gets better video message to young LGBT people. We remain dissatisfied with the commission and the council for their lack of leadership over the past few years in the EU. The European Parliament has proudly led on LGBT rights since the 1990s, but other institutions remain shy for lack of a clear consensus.
Surely these are rights and as such they should not be decided upon? Isn't that the concept of a human right - a set of rights every person deserves, simply on account of being human? This realisation needs to dawn on many more politicians and leaders, and we are committed to seeing this day soon. Ultimately, the European executive will have to prove more proactive. European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding forcefully and repeatedly declares that homophobia has no place in Europe. This is praiseworthy and we acknowledge her commitment. But what will she do about it?
Ulrike Lunacek MEP and Michael Cashman MEP are co-presidents of the European Parliament's Intergroup on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights