RIGA - Parliament's social and labor affairs committee upheld amendments to the labor law on Sept. 12, banning employee discrimination based on sexual orientation. The bill was supported by MPs from the People's Party, the Greens and the Farmers' Union, as well as the opposition New Era party.
Members of Latvia's First Party, which aligns itself with many conservative churches in Latvia, and the opposition left-wing alliance Harmony Center opposed the amendments.
The move has galvanized homophobic parliamentarians 's who are numerous in Latvia 's to spout their rheteric in the lead-up to elections, scheduled for Oct. 7. Latvia's First Party, who has heavily based their pre-election campaign on the issue of homosexuality, was particularly vociferous.
Earlier this summer, Janis Smits of Latvia's First said the amended law would "open the gate for pedophilia, pederasty and other forms of perversion."
Lawmakers from the People's Party and New Era, both right-wing parties, proposed the amendments. Although the ban would change nothing essential, they said, it would allow Latvia to abide by EU directives.
Parliament initially amended the labor law to remove sexual orientation from the draft's anti-discrimination legislation. But since the move, which was passed on June 15, blatantly violated EU directives, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga returned the bill to Parliament.
"It was a big waste of time and taxpayers' money not to pass the amendment the first time around," Kristina Garina, chairwoman for the Latvian gay and lesbian organization Mozaika, told The Baltic Times. "The parliamentary debates alone were shameful for the whole country."
If MPs had disregarded the president's objections and passed the legislation unchanged, the amendment could have cost the Baltic state hundreds of thousands of euros in damages.
"[In June] it was all about certain parties' election campaign," Garina added. "But they could only push their views so far. This time they had no choice but to abide by EU directives."
Welfare Ministry representatives present at the Sept. 12 committee meeting said that several members of the European Parliament asked why Latvia had failed to comply with the European-wide directive against discrimination for over two years. The government will have to answer those charged by Oct. 2.
Still, Latvia's First Party has not shied from using the homosexual issue in a last-minute attempt to grab voters' attention. On Sept. 7, the party proposed that Saiema (Latvia's parliament) ban "homosexual propaganda" in the mass media, but the draft was rejected.
The minister-led party had prepared amendments to the advertising law, the law on the press and other mass media and the law on radio and television, which would ban the "propaganda of homosexual relations."
Defending the amendments, a Latvia's First Party representative said the proposal would "make sure the mass media did not weaken the role of the family as defined in the Latvian Constitution." The legislation would also prevent the media from "splitting society and creating a misconception about the existence of a group of individuals asking for special treatment from the public due to their beliefs."
In the party's cover letter, which was attached to the draft amendments, Latvia's First wrote: "An unambiguous stance by legislators on issues that cause public confrontation would foster moral strength and wholesome debate in the area of human rights, private life and personal opinion."