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Hungary approves constitutional change to effectively ban adoption by same-sex couples

Marton Pal, left, and Adam Hanol play with their 4-year-old adopted son at a playground in Budapest on Nov. 19. (Krisztina Fenyo/Reuters) (Krisztina Frnyo/Reuters)

Hungary’s parliament Tuesday passed a law effectively banning adoptions for same-sex couples.

The constitutional change marked the latest in a succession of restrictions on LGBT rights in Hungary under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party. Lawmakers also approved new measures to strengthen Orban’s power, due to come into force after Hungary’s next election in 2023.

Under the rule changes, the Hungarian constitution will allow only married couples and single people granted special permission by the government to adopt children. Same-sex marriage is not permitted in Hungary, although civil unions are allowed.

In the past, gay couples had been able to adopt children by having one partner apply as a single person, but the new law puts an end to this practice.

The amendment’s architects, including Justice Minister Judit Varga, have framed it a protection for traditional, Christian institutions of marriage and family. The change states that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man,” Varga wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.

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Human rights groups have criticized the law as a backward step for Hungary. “This is a dark day for Hungary’s LGBTQ community and a dark day for human rights,” David Vig, director of Amnesty International Hungary, said after the bill passed.

Hungary has been led by the Fidesz government for a decade. This year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the country has installed a number of new laws that critics say impinge on the rights of LGBT people while also hitting back at critics of Orban, a proponent of what he describes as “illiberal democracy.”

In May, Hungary banned legal gender recognition, meaning transgender and intersex people cannot change how they were designated at birth. Critics said the move contradicted decisions by the European Court of Human Rights. Hungary’s constitutional court has pledged to look into the matter.

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Among the constitutional amendments approved Tuesday were changes to an article that focused on childhood development, with new language that “protects the right of children to self-identity according to their gender of birth.”

Other legislative actions Tuesday looked set to make it easier for Orban to push back against opposition groups. The constitutional amendments will loosen oversight by independent bodies over government spending and make it easier to call a state of emergency, critics said.

The Hungarian government said that the amendments were designed to create a “more modern, efficient system that is better adapted to the changing security environment and builds on the experience of crisis management in recent years,” according to the law’s explanatory text.

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However, the moves may spark further tension with European Union bodies and neighbors. Along with Poland, Hungary has clashed with other members of the European Union in recent weeks over the bloc’s planned $2.2 trillion spending scheme due to the inclusion of provisions designed to protect “rule of law” — judicial and political norms that underpin democracies.

Both Poland and Hungary are led by populist, right-wing governments that are often at odds with their liberal E.U. partners. Critics say that Orban has used LGBT issues as a means of rallying support among his base as he deals with complicated issues such as E.U. divisions and the coronavirus, as he did in the past with migration.

Jozsef Szajer, a founding member of the Fidesz party who had helped spearhead the constitutional changes, abruptly resigned from the party last month. It was later alleged that he had been present at a “sex party” with other men in Brussels, where he lived as a member of European Parliament, when it was raided by police officers.