Hungarian authorities have fined the distributor of a children's book that features families headed by same-sex parents, relying on a law prohibiting unfair commercial practices and fueling a debate over recent government steps seen as limiting the rights of LGBT people.
The fine comes as Hungary's government is already under widespread scrutiny over legislation it passed last month that prohibits the depiction of homosexuality or gender reassignment to minors.
The law, which is set to take effect on Thursday, was described by rights groups as an attack on the LGBT community and rebuked by high-ranking European officials as a violation of the European Union's values.
Speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the law “a disgrace” and warned Hungary that the EU’s executive arm would use all its powers to uphold European law.
"What a Family”
It was amid this escalation over Hungary's policies that a local government fined the distributor of “What a Family” - a combined Hungarian translation of American author Lawrence Schimel's books “Early One Morning” and “Bedtime, Not Playtime!”— $830 (€700). Each of Schimel's books depicts the daily routines of a child, one with two mothers and one with two fathers.
The fine was imposed by the Pest County Government Office — the local authority responsible for the county surrounding Hungary's capital, Budapest.
A Pest County official told commercial television station HirTV Tuesday that the book's Hungarian distributor, the Foundation for Rainbow Families, had violated rules on unfair commercial practices by failing to clearly indicate that “What a Family!” contained “content which deviates from the norm.”
“The book was there among other fairytale books and thus committed a violation,” Pest County Commissioner Richard Tarnai said. “There is no way of knowing that this book is about a family that is different than a normal family.”
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the Foundation for Rainbow Families wrote that “rainbow families are perfectly normal, ordinary families," a reference to families with LGBT parents.
“The storybook is about simple, everyday events, and the sexuality of the parents is not even a theme,” the foundation said.
Schimel, the author of the books that were translated into Hungarian, told The Associated Press in an email that requiring the labeling of books with content that deviates from the norm is “a pernicious concept, often used as a weapon to try to cultivate or justify prejudice and intolerance.”
'They exist in the world'
“It is important for all kids, not just ones in same-sex families, to see these families reflected in books — just as they exist in the world,” Schimel wrote.
Hungary's government argues that the law passed in June, which prohibits displaying to minors content in media or school education programs that “depicts or promotes homosexuality,” is necessary to protect children and to allow parents sole control over their sexual education.
But many of Hungary's partners in the 27-member EU have blasted the law as discriminatory against LGBT people and demanded its repeal.
During a Wednesday debate in the European Parliament, the five largest groups in the EU legislature voiced support for a joint resolution condemning the law and urged the EU's executive arm to take action against the Hungarian government — including withholding billions in COVID-19 economic recovery funds earmarked for Hungary.
A vote on the resolution, and a protest in Budapest against the law, are scheduled for Thursday.
Speaking to the European Parliament, von der Leyen said the law equates homosexuality and gender reassignment with pornography, and "uses the protection of children...as an excuse to severely discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.”