Hungary will hold a referendum in April on its controversial law that bans educational materials and programs for children that are considered to promote homosexuality and gender reassignment, the government announced Tuesday.
The law, which effectively prohibits any discussion of LGBTQ themes in schools, was widely criticized by the opposition and civil rights activists when it was passed in June 2021. The European Union launched legal action against Hungary, a member state, over the legislation, saying that it violates the “fundamental rights of LGBTIQ people” under EU law.
The referendum is seen as a response by Hungary’s hard-line nationalist government to this criticism. The vote will be held on April 3, the same day as the country’s general parliamentary election.
Hungary’s right-wing populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has argued that the law is not about violating LGBTQ rights, but about preserving parents’ rights to choose how to educate their children.
Orban has outlined a five-question referendum vote that will ask the public if they support the “promotion” of content related to sexual orientation to children and is urging the public to vote “no.”
When launching the legal action against Hungary in July, the European Commission said that Budapest had “failed to explain why the exposure of children to LGBTIQ content as such would be detrimental to their well-being or not in line with the best interests of the child.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the law a “shame” that goes against EU values. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte went as far as saying Hungary “has no place in the EU anymore.”
Experts and human rights advocates say Orban is hoping to score political points and divide his opponents ahead of the elections. Many of Hungary’s opposition parties have united in an attempt to defeat the longtime leader, but LGBTQ rights remain a major sticking point within the group.
In July, when Orban first proposed that a referendum on the law be held, he referred to a 2016 vote in which Hungary rejected the EU’s refugee resettlement plan but failed to reach a voter turnout threshold – making the referendum not legally binding.
“Then, a referendum and the common will of the people stopped Brussels,” he said. “We have already succeeded once and together we will succeed again.”