Current Affairs

Lithuanian MPs attempt to exclude gays from legal protection

Tony Grew June 6, 2008
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Members of Parliament in Lithuania have removed age, disability, and sexual orientation protections from a new draft law on equal opportunities.

Several articles of the proposed legislation had conformed the European Union anti-discrimination policy, which covers those three groups.

MP Egidijus Klumbys successfully argued that the country’s constitution, which does mention sex, race, nationality, language, origin, social status, religion, convictions, or opinions but not sexual orientation, should be the template.

The Lithuanian Gay League condemned the move.

“We would like to point out that such an amendment considerably narrows the application of the non-discrimination principle in Lithuania,” the group said in a statement.

Directive 2000/78/EC obligates governments to ensure that people complaining of discriminatory behaviour in their respect based on their age, disability and sexual orientation should have the right to get support and be represented by relevant trade unions or expert organisations or associations.

“Furthermore, governments must guarantee that the sanctions imposed in cases of discrimination are effective and proportionate, and that they do not encourage any further discrimination.”

The Lithuanian Gay League has urged MPs to include in the new law all types of discrimination listed in article 13 of the European Community Treaty.

That covers education, social security, health care and the provision of goods and services.

“Governments must guarantee that the sanctions imposed in cases of discrimination are effective and proportionate, and that they do not encourage any further discrimination,” said LGL.

“In other words, sanctions for discriminative behaviour must be related to the damage done and be a means discouraging such discriminative behaviour.”

Lithuania has arguably the worst record on gay rights of any EU nation.

In April a leading European organisation reminded the Lithuanian government that rallies and public events cannot be banned just because some people are homophobic.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe expressed concern about the situation in Lithuania, where sexual minorities are barred from holding Pride marches by the authorities in the capital Vilnius.

The Council of Europe formally expressed concern over the situation in the country for the first time since it broke from the Soviet Union and became a free nation once again.

The 47-member Council of Europe promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

“According to the established case law of the European Court of Human Rights, peaceful demonstrations, be they in favour of the rights of LGBT persons or others, cannot be banned simply because of the existence of attitudes hostile to the demonstrators or to the causes they advocate,” the Committee of Ministers said.

“On the contrary, the state has a duty to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enable lawful demonstrations to proceed peacefully.

“In a series of judgments, the Court has emphasised that any discrimination based on sexual orientation is contrary to the Convention.2 All member states must observe the Convention when they apply national law, notably in the light of the case law of the Court.”

Vilnius city council has effectively banned any gay Pride events on the grounds of “security.”

In November amendments to the public order and cleanliness regulations were passed, meaning the police or a special commission will be able to ban any event where they think a riot might occur.

“It will be useless to apply for permission to hold our events for the next 10 years, because we won’t get approved,” Lithuanian Gay League chairman Vladimiras Simonko said.

“Assurance of security during these events is not our responsibility. We pay taxes, and laws obligate the authorities to ensure our security during our events.”

Lithuania is a member of the EU but remains one of the most socially backward nations in Europe.

A large majority of the population are Roman Catholics, and the church is openly hostile the rights of sexual minorities.

A law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment was passed in 2004, as an obligation for acceptance into the European Union, but politicians in the remote Baltic state struggle to understand the most basic concepts of equality.

More than half of Lithuanian MPs believe homosexuality to be a perversion.

Twice last year gay activists were banned from displaying the rainbow flag, an international symbol of gay rights.

Because of the de-facto ban on gay events in the city, LGBT activists are to hold Baltic Pride in Riga next year.

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