EU Could Halt Hungary's COVID-19 Relief Payments Over LGBT Censorship Law

The European Union could halt Hungary's COVID-19 relief payments over the country's new LGBT censorship law, said EU Parliament President David Sassoli.

The Hungarian bill, which passed last week, prohibits showing LGBT issues, homosexuality and sex reassignment content to individuals under 18 in sex education programs, movies and advertisements, the Associated Press reported. Hungary's President Janos Ader signed the law Wednesday.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said, "it's not about homosexuality, it's about the kids and the parents." The law has been described as discrimination by many outraged EU leaders.

"Respect and tolerance are at the core of the European project. We are committed to carry on with this effort, making sure that future European generations grow up in an atmosphere of equality and respect," said a letter addressed to European Council President Charles Michel and signed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other EU leaders.

The European Commission in Brussels sent a letter to Hungary stating that portions of the bill seem to "directly violate the prohibition of discrimination based on sex and on sexual orientation."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Rainbow Flags in Germany
Rainbow flags wave outside the main train station in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on June 23, 2021. The European Union could halt Hungary's COVID-19 relief payments over their new LGBT censorship law. Thomas Lohnes/AFP via Getty Images

Several EU leaders insisted Thursday that discrimination must not be tolerated in the 27-nation bloc, setting the scene for a heated summit over Hungary's legislation.

The government says it will protect children, but critics say it links homosexuality with pedophilia.

Speaking upon arrival at the meeting in Brussels, Orban ruled out withdrawing the law, insisting it does not target homosexuals.

Orban portrayed himself as a protector of homosexuals.

"I'm a freedom fighter in the Communist regime. Homosexuality was punished and I fought for their freedom and their rights," he said. "I am defending the rights of homosexual guys but this law is not about them."

The issue has turned a harsh spotlight on the EU's inability to rein in the "illiberal democracies" among its ranks like Hungary and Poland, whose deeply conservative, nationalist and anti-migrant governments have flouted the bloc's democratic standards and values for years.

It's also taken center stage at Europe's premier international soccer tournament, where the continent's governing soccer body UEFA rejected host city Munich's plans to display rainbow colors during a match between Germany and Hungary at the European Championship on Wednesday evening.

In their coordinated messages on Twitter, several EU leaders wrote that "hate, intolerance and discrimination have no place in our Union. That's why, today and every day, we stand for diversity and LGBTI equality so that our future generations can grow up in a Europe of equality and respect."

Many attached a letter to their tweets addressed to Michel, who will host their summit later Thursday, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will also take part in the meeting.

Hungary was not mentioned by name, but many of the same leaders signed a letter earlier this week backed by 17 countries calling on von der Leyen's commission, which watches over the respect of EU laws, to take the government in Budapest to the European Court of Justice over the bill.

The commission has already taken the first step in legal action. On Wednesday, Brussels sent a letter to Hungary's justice minister seeking "clarifications, explanation and information" about elements of the bill.

It said that some provisions would put homosexuality, sex change and divergence from self-identity "on the same footing as pornography."

Asked Thursday about the Hungarian bill, Guterres said "all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable and obviously any form of discrimination in relation to LGBTQ+ people are totally unacceptable."

Speaking after a meeting with Guterres, Sassoli said a mechanism making payouts to Hungary from a COVID-19 recovery fund conditional to the respect of the rule of law should be activated.

"The time has come now for the law to get applied," Sassoli said.

LGBT Pride Flags in Europe
Football supporters are seen with LGBT pride flags outside of the stadium before the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Germany and Hungary at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany,Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Matthias Schrader/AP Photo