The Constitutional Court of Hungary has annulled a new law due to come into effect next month that would legally recognise gay and lesbian relationships.

Parliament approved the Registered Partnership Act in December 2007.

From January 1st 2009 lesbian and gay couples would have had have almost identical rights as married heterosexual couples in common law.

Some exceptions are the right to adopt, access to fertility treatment and the right to take their partner’s surname.

The court ruled today that the new law downgrades marriage, but said that a partnership scheme for gay and lesbian couples only would be constitutional. Marriage has a special protection under the constitution.

The Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, has said a new bill will be prepared in light of the court’s ruling.

There could be objections from some of his MPs who presented the partnerships law as being of benefit mainly to heterosexuals.

They may be unwilling to back a new law that creates civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

The Constitutional Court of Hungary is responsible for protecting the Constitution, reviewing the constitutionality of legislation and protecting fundamental constitutional rights.

The Registered Partnership Act gave both gay and straight couples the right to register their partnership and protections regarding next of kin status, taxation, health care, inheritance, social security, pensions and shared possession of a home.

Government statistics show that there were an estimated 349,000 unmarried couples in Hungary in 2005, 12.2 per cent of all families, compared to 62,000 in 1970, 2.1 per cent of all families.

An opinion poll published last year after the law was passed found little support for the measure among the voters.

The Nepszabadsag survey found that only 12% of Hungarians think same-sex relationships are completely normal.

60% condemned homosexuality and 30% disapproved of gay people.

In November two landmark measures extending protections to LGBT people were adopted by the Hungarian parliament.

The counrty’s hate crime laws will be altered to a general formulation of a “violent act against a member of a social group,” which is believed to include sexual orientation.

The second piece of legislation makes it possible to initiate civil proceedings against a person who engages in degrading or intimidating behaviour towards groups based on nationality, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

There have been violent clashes with police and attacks on politicians and gay Pride in recent years.

In July Budapest Pride was the target of violent fascist attacks.

Pride in Budapest in 2007 was plagued by skinheads and fascists shouting abuse and throwing items such as beer bombs, smoke bombs and petrol bombs at the peaceful marchers.

In the week leading up to this year’s Pride two gay businesses in Budapest were attacked with petrol bombs.

The Socialist government has adopted several bills in past years to sanction less severe forms of hate speech, but all attempts have been struck down by the Constitutional Court claiming an unconstitutional limitation of the freedom of speech.

The new legislation which is believed to conform to the standards set by the Constitutional Court: members of a group subjected to degrading or intimidating behavior can initiate civil proceedings against the offender.