The laws, which override a previous presidential veto, put newly-elected President Dalia Grybauskaite in a difficult position during her very first week in Presidency by forcing her signature on the laws.
Despite protests in Vilnius, Brussels, and London – as well as pledges of human rights organizations to combat the amendments – Seimas on July 14 overruled the veto of the former President Valdas Adamkus, adopting the controversial Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information.
A total of 87 MPs voted for the law, which bans information that “agitates for homosexual, bisexual and polygamous relations,” while 25 MPS abstained. Only six voted against the highly controversial law.
Grybauskaite, who claimed she does not approve of the homophobic provisions and promised not to sign the law, is in a controversial position because the Lithuanian Constitution says the President must sign any law that was adopted by more than half of Seimas following a presidential veto.
“In my opinion, the law contains homophobic provisions. There cannot be a ‘higher’ reason, which would put the purpose of the law higher than fundamental human rights. I can promise that I will not sign any law which contradicts them,” underlined Grybauskaite in a July 13 interview with Verslo zinios.
However, article 72 of the Lithuanian Constitution clearly states that a vetoed law is considered adopted if half of legislators (presently 139 in total) vote for it.
“The President of the Republic must within three days sign and forthwith officially promulgate such laws,” states article 72 of the constitution.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, various Lithuanian and local NGOs have held protests and collected signatures to address the Lithuanian parliament, requesting it not to adopt the law.
“It would be a deeply retrograde step if the Lithuanian parliament supports these flagrantly discriminatory measures. A retrograde step for LGBT people in Lithuania, and a retrograde step for this emerging Baltic country” Amnesty International U.K. Director Kate Allen said on July 13.
The organization had led an urgent action campaign urging the Speaker of the Lithuanian parliament to ensure that no discriminatory legislation is adopted.
However, the Parliamentary Speaker Arturas Valinskas personally voted for the Minor protection law, alongside 15 members of his party. The law was opposed only by Rokas Zilinskas of the Rising Nation party. Four Social Democrats and one member of the Liberal Union party also voted against the law.
Nevertheless, the Liberal Union faction, led by Eligijus Masiulis, made a public announcement after adoption of the law saying they will address the Constitutional Court to verify that the law does not contradict the Constitution. Signatures of one fifth of the Seimas (28 MPs) are necessary for addressing the Constitutional Court.
The law will come into force without any amendments from March 1, 2010. Its implementation is entrusted to the Inspectorate of Journalist Ethics and other institutions. The implementing institutions will have a wide discretion because the criteria for applying the information ban and exceptions to the rule are drawn very vaguely and leave much room for interpretation.
“The Catholic Church has an enormous influence on the President of Lithuania as well as Seimas,” warned the protesting chairman of the Tolerant Youth Association, Vytautas Valentinavicius, as The Baltic Times reported on July 1.
With the view of pleasing the strong Roman Catholic Church in the country, the Lithuanian parliament has already considered an abortion ban, adopted controversial laws on support for traditional families and the current Minor Protection Law.
Notably, the law also bans information on “paranormal phenomena” that are presented as truth. The law describes paranormal phenomena as occurrences that are not explainable by science.
Though religion cannot be explained by science and paranormal religious content could be adequately banned, there was an exception for information that presents purely “religious views” provided in the law.
Representatives of human rights NGOs in Lithuania told The Baltic Times that religious information will always be immune to any law and the church will always be “more equal than others.”
Silence or criminal charges
The Lithuanian Parliament on July 9 also approved the amendments of the Criminal Code and Administrative Violations Code, which establish responsibility for the promotion of homosexual relations.
The amendments provide that a person who promotes homosexual relations may be punished by arrest, a fine (up to 5,000 litas) or community service.
The Seimas gave a green light for consideration of these amendments in the parliamentary committees. After all committees have their say, the amendments will be considered at the parliamentary plenary sitting.