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Lithuania moves to ditch controversial Russian-style 'anti-gay propaganda' law

Two women pose with rainbow cloth draped over their shoulders.
Two women pose with rainbow cloth draped over their shoulders. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Joshua Askew
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Legal and social discrimination blight the small Baltic state's LGBT+ community.

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The Lithuanian government moved on Wednesday to discard a controversial law dubbed by critics as the "gay propaganda" law. 

The notorious legislation - passed in 2009 - shields minors from information about same-sex marriage and LGBTQI issues.

Controversy surrounds its provision against info that “expresses contempt for family values [or] encourages... entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution”.

Critics say it is homophobic and curbs freedom, though the 'Law on the Protection of Minors from Negative Public Information' does not explicitly mention the LGBTQ+ community. 

This is the provision the Justice Ministry wants to amend.  

Similar legislation was introduced in Russia to purportedly protect children from "gay propaganda", which rights groups say has caused "significant stigma and harm toward LGBT people" and curbed freedom of expression, well-being and security. 

Lithuania's Justice Ministry was prompted to act, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the law violated the right to free expression. 

The international court assessed the legislation after it was used to censor a children's book, titled Amber Heart, which contained lines about same-sex relationships and marriage. 

ECHR judges challenged the Lithuanian government's argument that one story in the book, written by the late lesbian writer Neringa Dangvyde Macate, had promoted same-sex families over others. 

The story instead advocated respect for and acceptance of all members of society in a fundamental aspect of their lives, namely a committed relationship, they said. 

LGBT rights are a contentious issue within Lithuanian politics, amid perceived legal and social discrimination against the community inside the country. 

According to a 2022 study commissioned by the Free Society Institute, more than 70% of Lithuanians are against same-sex partnerships - one of the highest rates in Europe.

Aušrinė Armonaitė, leader of the liberal Freedom Party, said she hoped the proposal to remove the controversial provision would fracture the coalition government, composed of her party, the conservative TS-LKD and Liberal movement. 

“It will be very bad” if the parliament fails to pass the amendment, she was quoted as saying by LRT, Lithuania's public broadcaster. 

“We will continue to stagnate where we are now,” Armonaitė added. “We aim for genuine, real freedom in Lithuania.”

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A survey from 2020 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that 44% of Lithuania's LGBT community had experienced harassment compared to the EU average of 38%.

Lithuania had an annual pride celebration in July, which drew around ten thousand people onto the streets. 

“We’re here to celebrate pride, freedom and love,” one demonstrator told Euronews at the time. It's ok if you are not ready to go to the Pride. But we hope this demonstration is helpful for others who feel they should be hidden.”

Around 60% in Lithuania say that LGBTI prejudice and intolerance have dropped in their country in the last five years. It is 40% across the EU-28, according to the FRA.

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