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Will Lithuanian law on "family values" harm gay rights?

New law restricts dissemination of information harmful to children under 18.

(Photo by Reuters)

Editor's note: As part of our ongoing Rainbow Planet series chronicling the global fight for gay rights, correspondents look at eastern European countries whose traditional values clash with those of their western European partners. Below, David L. Stern examines a new Lithuanian law that could stigmatize gays and lesbians — or worse. In neighboring Poland, Jan Cienski reports that a decision by the European Court of Human Rights has angered conservatives.

VILNIUS, Lithuania — It may not be on the level of Uganda’s draconian anti-gay legislation, which applies the death penalty to some homosexual relations, but Lithuania this month enacted a law that observers are calling worryingly homophobic.

The “Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information” came into force on March 1 and restricts any public dissemination of information which affects the “mental health, physical, intellectual or moral development” of children under 18.

The legislation, in a word, is expansive. Among the myriad of topics deemed unfit for minors are:

  • “which promotes bad eating and hygiene habits and lack of physical exercise”
  • "which displays a mass hypnosis session aimed at affecting the mass media audience”
  • "which promotes property damage or destruction”
  • “which is of an erotic nature”
  • “which promotes sexual intercourse”
  • “which arouses fear or horror”
  • “which encourages gambling, encourages and suggests participation in the games of chance, lotteries and other games that imply easy win”

But the paragraph that has attracted the most controversy is one that prohibits information “which scorns family values and promotes the concept of marriage and family formation, other than stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the Republic of Lithuania.”

The law prohibits, in other words, any portrayal of marriage as something other than the union of a man and a woman.

The reaction to the legislation has been swift and unequivocal. Lithuania became a member of the European Union in 2004 and signed on to EU codes for human rights, including those that forbid discrimination because of sexual orientation. Amnesty International, in a published statement, called the law “an anachronism.”

“It will stigmatize gay and lesbian people and exposes advocates for their rights to the risk of censorship and financial penalties,” said John Dalhuisen of the human rights organization.

The legislation’s supporters say that the bill is needed to combat society’s slow deterioration. “This law is necessary because we see a collapse of values that are necessary for any sort of family life,” said Mantas Adomenas, a representative for Vilnius’s old town from the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats, parliament’s largest party.

Adomenas said that the law will not restrict the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) — just prevent them from depicting same-sex marriage in a positive light in places where children might have access. This includes schools, public spaces, the internet and in the media, for instance on television before 10 p.m.