EU politics: Somewhere over the rainbow

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IGLA-Europe warns that too few countries fall into the standard setting category that Malta achieved. Evelyne Paradis, the organization’s director, said at the 2016 launch of the index: “Contrary to popular belief, LGBTI equality is far from being a done deal in Europe.” To find evidence supporting Paradis’ belief that more has to be done, we only have to look as far as Italy, which scored just 20%. On May 11, the Catholic country’s parliament finally passed a law allowing civil unions between same-sex couples, the last major Western European country to introduce the measure after years of intense debate. It is a major step forward for the country after a heated debate, highlighting strong opposition from the right and the Catholic Church.

EU POLITICSHowever, civil rights groups were quick to point out the limitations of the Italians’ new legislation. The law does not permit same-sex couples to adopt their partner’s biological children. LGBTI Italians are also still restricted by strong opposition to increased diversity education in schools, and the fact that transphobic and homophobic hate speech by individuals, specifically from those with a public profile, is still a common occurrence.

The lowest scores were found in some of the newest EU members – in the Baltics and Eastern European countries – with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland all below 20%. Although Latvia was the first post-Soviet nation to hold a gay pride parade, EuroPride 2015, the country also introduced a ‘morality’ clause to the school curriculum. The clause states that “educational institutions must provide moral instruction on the constitutional values of family and marriage”, according to the Rainbow Index country report.

In Lithuania, many LGBTI-friendly events took place in 2015, and Vilnius’ mayor is in favour of hosting the capital’s first gay pride in 2016. However, in both those Baltic states opinion polls show that LGBTI equality is still a divisive issue. Homophobic and transphobic speech became more common in Poland, while a civil partnership bill was voted down. Similarly, the Gender Accordance Act, which intended to simplify the criteria for legal gender recognition, received a presidential veto.

The only European countries from the former Soviet Union to make it over the 50% threshold were Croatia and Hungary. Croatia received praise for its Life Partnership Act, whose implementation led to 90 civil partnerships in 2015. The survey, however, also noted the absence of requests for gender change surgeries, and the low social acceptance for the LGBTI community in Croatia compared to the EU average. Similarly, despite being ranked eighteenth out of 49 countries, Hungary was criticized for the anti-LGBTI views aired by politicians. The activities of the local LGBTI did receive praise for its awareness-raising activities.

Huge advances in policy formulation in Western Europe have still to progress further in order to achieve true equality for LGBTI citizens. Also, national parliaments must focus on the social stigmatization aspect through awareness-raising campaigns. The advances in Western Europe have not been replicated across the wider continent, and in this regard the EU has a great deal more work to do to bring about change in Eastern Europe, and, eventually, beyond.

Photos: RAINBOW FLAG: Rainbow
CIVIL UNION: David Shankbone
COLOGNE GAY PRIDE: © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas