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

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

The law does not restrict pro-gay demonstrations, Adomenas maintained. “But once [the demonstration] is on TV, it’s a question on how it is to be portrayed,” he added.

He gave the example of Erling Lae, Oslo’s openly gay mayor, who brought his spouse to a international mayoral conference in Vilnius last year.

“He can’t go on national television before 10 o’clock and [promote same sex marriage],” Adomenas said. “If it’s in a news report — sure. But he can’t put an ad on saying we Norwegians are so great because we have this type of marriage.”

The law, he continued, does not contradict European legal stipulations. “We have different notions of family,” he said. At the same time, it prevents Lithuanian youth from receiving “wrong guidance.”

“They grow up and then find out that they actually can’t marry like that,” Adomenas said.

Deputies in fact softened the law from an earlier version last year, which outlawed all materials “agitating for homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relations.” Members of the European Parliament’s intergroup on lesbian and gay rights wrote an open letter to the Lithuanian parliament, saying the legislation violated fundamental principles.

Nevertheless, the law’s new version causes concern. “The form of the law has changed significantly,” said Bruno Selun, the intergroup’s secretary. “However its substance is essentially homophobic because it refers to a traditional concept of family, and restricts and excludes all LGBT families.”

The issue, observers say, is how strictly the law is interpreted. The first test may come with a “Baltic Pride” festival, a two- day LGBT event planned for May, which will feature a conference, art exhibit and gay pride march.

According to Vladimir Simonko and Eduardas Platovas, leaders of the Lithuanian Gay League, the country remains a traditional society where the Catholic Church plays a leading role. The law, they fear, will deepen a general atmosphere where gays and lesbians do not feel comfortable, and the news media will fear reporting on LGBT issues.

“We feel the difference between Brussels and Amsterdam, and here” said Simonko. “There is this aggression on the streets — we always have to control ourselves.”

“If I see a couple of guys who might be aggressive, I cross to the other side,” he added.

But others see the legislation as a hiccup in a general progression from a Soviet society, with its inherent restrictions and prejudices, to an open, tolerant Western nation.

“We have a brand new generation here — there is a huge generation gap. There is the liberal youth, and then there’s an older generation raised in the Soviet past, who haven’t come entirely out of their stereotypes, and some are very bitter,” said Kestutis Sadauskas, head of the EU representation in Vilnius.

Nevertheless, the EU official said his commission would observe very closely how the law would be applied. “The protection of minorities is a sign of strength and maturity of a democracy — this is the litmus test.”