The dispute between a number of European Union leaders and Hungary over LGBT rights grew emotional after a meeting on Thursday, with Hungarian leader Viktor Orban’s peers warning him that there was no place for discrimination in the bloc.
Rutte said that some were in tears during the debate, while French President Emmanuel Macron later said it was a battle over civilization and culture.
“Hate, intolerance and discrimination have no place in our Union,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is gay, wrote on Twitter on Thursday as he shared a pro-LGBT rights letter written by E.U. officials.
European leaders are in Brussels for an E.U. summit, but the discussion Thursday had been dominated by a new law, approved last week by Hungary’s parliament, that critics say targets gay men, lesbians and transgender people.
Orban’s government has said the bill is designed to combat child sexual abuse. The broadly written law prohibits sharing content with minors that is deemed to be promoting gay sex or sexual reassignment.
But critics argue it is far more than that and Hungary’s conservative faction is limiting LGBT rights to distract from the weakness of Orban’s pandemic response.
The bill added a new wrinkle to Hungary’s already tense relationship with other European leaders, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen telling reporters Wednesday that the bill was “a shame.”
A group of E.U. leaders, including Rutte, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, signed a joint letter in defense of Europe’s LGBT community. Though the letter did not name Hungary, the letter said supporting the community was the “bedrock of the European Union.”
Orban, a populist leader who has led Hungary since 2010 and before that between 1998 and 2002, has denied that his government is opposing LGBT rights.
“It’s not about homosexuals,” said Orban. “It’s about the rights of the kids and the parents.”
Judit Varga, Hungary’s minister for Justice, hit back at Rutte, accusing him of blackmail. “Hungary doesn’t want to leave the [European Union],” Varga wrote on Twitter. “On the contrary, we want to save it from hypocrites.”
Macron told a news conference Friday that he did not favor removing Hungary from the European Union using a process known as Article 50. But he said it was a real problem for the bloc.
“It’s an existential question for Europeans. It’s a big debate,” the French leader said.
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said, however, Hungary had crossed the line and the E.U. leaders had a responsibility to protect Hungarians impacted by the law. “The European Union is there to protect citizens,” he told reporters in Brussels.
Hungary could now face legal challenges at the European Union and may face cuts to funding under a new procedure that targets those who violate democratic norms.
The dispute over LGBT rights has also captured the public attention, with German football fans waving rainbow flags during Germany’s match with Hungary on Tuesday in the UEFA European Championship.
That match resulted in a draw, leading to Hungary being knocked out of the tournament on points.