European Parliament condemns homophobia in EU Poland and Latvia

  • 2006-01-18
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - A joint resolution condemning homophobia in the EU was expected to pass in the European Parliament Jan. 18 after receiving support from political groups representing some 80 percent of the legislature.

The resolution does not name any member states specifically, but the wording contains references to events that took place in Poland and Latvia last year when gay and lesbian pride parades, the countries' first, were met by a storm of homophobic criticism.

The resolution mentions "a series of worrying events [that] has recently taken place in a number of EU Member States as widely reported by the press and by NGOs, that have ranged from banning gay pride or equality marches to leading political and religious leaders inflammatory-hate-threatening language, police failing to provide adequate protection or even breaking up peaceful demonstrations, violent demonstrations by homophobic groups." (For excerpts of the resolution see Page 2.)

While Latvia is not mentioned, it is clear that MEPs have the Baltic state in mind. Both Latvia and Poland initially banned their gay pride parades, but a last minute legal reprieve in Latvia allowed the march to go ahead. In addition, a number of statements condemning homosexuality by politicians preceded both gay marches.

In Riga, thousands turned out to watch the spectacle, with radical groups attempting to physically obstruct the procession. Later in the fallout, Juris Calitis, the dean of the University of Latvia's theology department, was expelled from the Lutheran Church for holding an ecumenical service for parade participants.

Latvia later added a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriage, arguing that its civil code ban was not strong enough. Poland also has a provision in their constitution that would make gay marriage illegal.

"I think this is a very unfortunate way for a new member state to become known in Europe. Regardless of what happens afterwards, this image will stay around for a while," Ilze Brands Kehris, head of the Latvian Human Rights and Ethnic Studies Centre, said.

Parts of the Latvian media choose to downplay the coming resolution and the criticism in Strasbourg. Neatkariga Rita Avize, a daily that is supportive of Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs, portrayed the resolution as the work of the gay lobby. A program covering the news on TV3 program was titled "The Gays are Against Latvia in the Europarliament."

Not true, said Elisabeth Schroedter, a German MEP and former reporteur for Latvia. Her name is attached to the resolution.

"There is a huge consensus in modern society for equal rights for all humans, and that includes homosexuals," she told The Baltic Times by telephone.

Schroedter added that many of the new members states don't understand this, which she attributed partly to the communist legacy, a mindset she said she knows well as she is from East Germany.

While some politicians and media outlets have stressed that the resolution will not carry any legal sanctions against member states, a request for new directives concerning discrimination based on sexual orientation has been put forward.

In addition, infringement proceedings can be taken against any member state that has not properly transposed EU law 's something that Brands-Kehris said could very well happen to Latvia if it does not incorporate the race and anti-discrimination directives into domestic law, which should have been done by May 2004.

"Infringement proceedings must be brought against any member state that fails to transpose or implement the appropriate directives already in force in a number of member states," MEP Michael Cashman said during Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg. "I agree that we must campaign and educate, but that in itself is not enough. A proposal for a horizontal directive directly related to the race and ethnicity directive promised by President Borroso must be brought before this house."