Hungary – The Hungarian law on paedophilia and the protection of children concerning sexuality, which was passed by the unicameral Országház (Hungarian parliament) on 15 June, has been written about extensively and has caused heated debate. There have been countless reactions from members of the European Parliament, heads and members of governments, sports associations and public figures. Incredible as it may seem, even as a letter co-signed by 18 EU countries condemned the Hungarian law and called on the European Commission to intervene, including by referring it to the EU Court of Justice, no one seems to have bothered to reflect on the content of the law itself, or even on its spirit.
What makes a law is the spirit that guides it.
The spirit of the law
Hungarian lawmakers, within the framework of their competence and democratic sovereignty, have sought to clarify the state’s role in matters relating to the sexuality of minors: the state must be responsible and active when it comes to protecting minors from sexual violence (most of the new law develops an anti-paedophilia arsenal); and it must be the guarantor and protector of parental freedom with regard to sex education, and in particular the way in which the more sensitive questions of homosexuality, “gender” or pornography, to name but a few, are addressed.
Thus, this law does not deal with homosexuals as persons, nor with their rights (which are protected by the Hungarian Basic Law), but rather with homosexuality, the understanding of which, in the opinion of the democratically elected legislators, should remain a prerogative (mainly) of parents and not of civil society or the state.
This is ultimately a statement of responsibility on a sensitive issue. The term “sensitive” is indeed an apt one here, as no scientific study can determine with certainty either the age at which it is appropriate to talk about these matters or the best way to do it. Progressives and conservatives can both find defensible arguments, but, in the light of how sensitive these issues are, it is parental freedom that is being defended here. The aim of the new law is to protect parental freedom in a context where it is perceived to be under threat. Let us consider, for example, the organizations that intervene in schools, on television, and in the public sphere, to make children aware of the fact that it is possible to “choose one’s sex”. The problem lies mainly in the fact that this is done without parental consent, and therefore potentially against the way they would have wanted to address the issue.
The critics’ intellectual gap
The Hungarian law makes a societal choice, where what is at stake is not the rights of any minority, but rather the issue of who should be responsible for children’s education.
As in any ideological dispute, one may disagree. However, the mistake made by the critics of this law is to debate not on the real issue, but on a different one.
The real debate should focus on the issue of the responsibility of the state. By contrast, what we have been witnessing is a denunciation of a law on the basis of an alleged breach of the EU’s values.
There are two major problems here:
First of all, as we have already said, this argument is off-topic. The Hungarian law is not about the rights of homosexuals, but about sex education, and it does not discriminate or judge people on the basis of their sexuality.
Second, critics have failed to define the “values” that this law is supposed to violate, and they have yet to explain in what ways such violation occurs.