RIGA - Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has denounced the nation's parliament for removing from law provisions that ban discrimination of employees on the basis of their sexual orientation.
On June 15 the parliament passed the final reading of amendments to the Labor Law, but deleted sections of the bill that expressly banned sexual orientation discrimination.The decision was the latest display of gay intolerance across the Baltics that has concerned human rights watchers.
The Dutch ambassador to Estonia this month announced his decision to leave the county because of abuse directed toward his gay lover. And organizers of a planned gay pride parade in Riga this month encountered opposition from politicians and religious leaders. Kalvitis, who said he did not support parliament's decision, told Latvian Radio he did not believe President Vaira Vike-Freiberga would promulgate the bill, and would return it for revision.
"Such intolerance as was seen in the parliament on Thursday had not been observed in Latvia so far," Kalvitis said.
"But the president will definitely send the bill back to the parliament and we will cool lawmakers' heads."
He would prefer the parliamentarians to deal with issues concerning their direct responsibilities instead of "making inappropriate comments at the parliament, calling names and promoting intolerance in society."
"It looks like the pre-election period and hot weather has made people unpredictable and the parliament has also digressed from serious solution of issues related to their direct responsibilities, such as the social situation, improving the education systemâ€¦ and somehow chosen a different subject which is being used in the pre-election battle."
Gay and lesbian organizations have spoken out against the decision, and human rights experts have warned that Latvia might face sanctions from the European Commission for non-compliance with certain EU directives. The Welfare Ministry said that it would ask the Latvian president not to promulgate the amendments. However, in a positive step, Estonia's parliament last week passed a package of reforms which gave greater protection against sexual discrimination.
On June 14, the parliament approved Article 151 of the Penal Code, which deals with incitement of hatred.
The law provides for a fine or detention as punishment for acts that publicly incite hatred, violence or discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, color, sex, language, origin, religion, political opinion, financial and social status, and sexual orientation.
Previously the law did not contain a reference to sexual orientation. Restricting a person's rights and giving unlawful advantage to a person because of their sexual orientation would now also be punishable under the new law.
- With the cooperation of Baltic News Service