EP Vice-President Criticizes Lithuania for Violating LGBT* Rights

Amid the European Commission’s (EC) analysis whether the Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information is in line the EU acquis, a group of MEPs on February 26th, 2015 criticized the Baltic state for the continuing discrimination of LGBT* people, reports Lithuanian news agency BNS.

“I think we have to be active here on European level, because citizens’ rights in Lithuania are infringed. (…) LGBT* people with the measures taken by the government and the parliament with the law are pushed back to the closet. They have to be afraid that their public actions holding hands in the street or placing a photo on their Facebook site might even end up in prison. This should not be the case in a country of the European Union”, European Parliament Vice-President Ulrike Lunacek of Austria, a member of the European Greens-European Free Alliance Group, said at a meeting of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on February 26th, 2015.

Ms. Lunacek noted the decision made by Lithuania’s Office of the Journalists Ethics Inspector last May, which found the collection of fairy-tales Amber Heart. The book contains stories about same-sex couples which “violates traditional family values”. Ms. Lunacek also mentioned the negative conclusion handed down by the inspectorate in connection to a video clip which is a part of a social campaign “Change It”. It was produced by the national LGBT* rights organization LGL and pictured relations between persons of the same sex. After the decision, the country’s national broadcaster refused to air LGL’s video clip that aims at challenging negative attitudes towards the local LGBT* community.

The Lithuanian Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information classifies any information which “denigrates family values” or “encourages a concept of marriage and family other than the one stipulated in the Constitution or in the Civil Code” as detrimental to the minors.

Meanwhile, the Committee member Valdemar Tomaševski of Lithuania, who recently claimed that “families differing from the traditional model established in Lithuanian Constitution must not be promoted”, said it made no sense to criticize Lithuania for raising its children in line with Christian values. “I represent Lithuania as a member of parliament. The parliamentarians said a lot about values. The founder of the European Union said that EU democracy will either be Christian or non-existent. Everybody should keep that in mind. Criticizing Lithuania or any other country for supporting and protecting the education of its children by Christian values and the best European traditions is pointless”, said Mr. Tomaševski, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists.

In sign of indignation with his response, another member of the committee, Dutch Member of the European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, stated: “Somebody should explain to the honorable colleague that in Europe there is a space for everybody including those who are not Catholic; and including people who have different notions of family.”

“I think it is up for everybody to determine themselves what a family is. There are plenty of people in Europe who do not want to be raised according to your values (…). The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights. These values are common to the member-states and the society, in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail. That’s what your country signed up too as well”, Ms. In’t Veld said at the meeting.

Following the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament debate on the Lithuanian anti-propaganda law and the situation of the rights of LGBT* people in Lithuania, Ms. In’t Veld reacted: “The Commission chooses a minimalist, technocratic approach to the matter, only verifying if the law is in line with an EU directive on the media. But the aim is not enforcement of a mere media law, but enforcement of the fundamental values of the European Union, laid down in Article 2 of the Treaty and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

“Now the Commission has to demonstrate it will protect citizens if their rights are violated by national governments. We expect Vice-President Timmermans to put his money where his mouth is, stand up for citizens’ rights and equality, and have the courage to take on governments that do not uphold the European values.”

According to Vladimir Simonko, Board Chair of the national LGBT* rights organization LGL, the ‘anti-homosexual propaganda’ law not only violates the EU acquis, but is also contrary to the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic Lithuania. “Discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, sexual orientation and gender identity, is incompatible with the key principles of a democratic society. In this difficult geopolitical situation, the Lithuanian authorities have to decide, whether we stand with the ideal of democracy or we surrender to fear, ignorance and censorship”, Vladimir Simonko says.