The EU has threatened to sanction member state Hungary over a law due to go into effect on Thursday, which critics say discriminates against LGBT people.
Hungary’s parliament approved the law last month, which would see the portrayal of homosexuality or sex reassignment banned for those under the age of 18.
On Wednesday European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to launch an infringement procedure against Hungary if it did not reverse the law.
"If Hungary does not correct the situation, the Commission will use its powers as guardian of the treaties," she told the European Parliament.
She again described the law banning the dissemination of content on homosexuality to minors as "shameful".
Brussels can open an infringement procedure for violating EU law, which can lead to a referral to the EU Court of Justice and financial penalties. A letter of formal notice should be sent by mid-July at the latest, EU sources said.
The Commission had sent a first letter to the Hungarian authorities at the end of June to express its "legal concerns" about the text adopted on 15 June, which caused indignation among EU leaders.
"Let's be clear, we use these powers regardless of the Member State that violates European law," stressed von der Leyen. "Since the beginning of my mandate, we have initiated some 40 infringement procedures related to the protection of the rule of law and other European values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty.”
What is in Hungary’s new law?
The Hungarian parliament passed the law, tabled by prime minister Viktor Orban, during Pride month in June.
It bans the portrayal of homosexuality and sex reassignment in school education material, advertisements and TV programmes addressed to people under 18 years of age.
In practice, this means ads such as a recent Coca Cola campaign featuring a male couple would be banned, as well as TV shows or movies like Friends, Bridget Jones or Billy Elliot.
The government has defended the bill as an effort to protect children from paedophilia, a claim which has drawn further condemnation from human rights groups.
When it was passed by parliament, Lydia Gall, senior researcher on Eastern EU and Western Balkans at Human Rights Watch wrote: "Associating paedophilia with LGBT people, banning comprehensive sexuality education and stifling free speech is despicable and unworthy of an EU member state."
It is just the latest legal change in Hungary affecting the LGBT community.
Changes to the Hungarian Constitution in December 2020 altered the definition of families to exclude transgender and other LGBT individuals, defining the basis of the family as “marriage and the parent-child relationship.”
It declared that “the mother is a woman and the father is a man.”
On Tuesday the Venice Commission – an advisory group on constitutional matters to the 47-country Council of Europe human rights body – said the Hungarian “Omnibus Act” could limit adoptions to heterosexual parents.
“This constitutional amendment should not be used as an opportunity to withdraw existing laws on the protection of individuals who are not heterosexuals, or to amend these laws to their disadvantage,” it said in an analysis and opinion on the laws.
Same-sex marriage is constitutionally forbidden in Hungary, but civil partnerships are recognised.
The act declares that only married couples may adopt children unless granted special permission by the family affairs minister. This effectively bars same-sex couples or single individuals from doing so.
The Council of Europe isn't part of the European Union, but the opinions of the Venice Commission are taken into account by the EU’s executive branch when it weighs whether to take action against any of the bloc’s 27 member countries over possible democratic backsliding.
Lawmakers are pushing for the EU commission, which supervises the way the bloc’s laws are applied, to move ahead with legal action, and possibly to deny Hungary access to a new European coronavirus recovery fund unless it changes tack.