Many Hungarians mess up ballots to invalidate referendum on LGBTQ content in society

After weeks of talk of a close electoral race in Hungary’s general election, voters on Sunday granted a two-thirds parliamentary majority to incumbent President Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party.

But a separate referendum held on LGBTQ and transgender issues was declared invalid after a campaign by groups to spoil the ballots.

Orbán’s government said the referendum was a vote on child welfare laws, but critics say the questions amounted to discrimination against the LGBTQ community and an attempt to instil fear about what what children learn in school and what they are exposed to in the media.

“I find it stupid,” Ágnes Kapornay told CBC at a polling station in the capital, Budapest, on Sunday, after crossing out all the questions on her ballot.

“For a stupid question, I cannot give a correct answer.”

A void ballot from the April 3 referendum. Human rights groups in Hungary have called on opponents of the government to spoil their ballots so that the referendum is declared invalid because too few voters took part. This voter wrote “Never again Fidesz”. (Submitted)

Among those who validly voted for the referendum, more than 90% voted no to the following four questions:

  • Do you support the teaching of sexual orientation to minor children in public educational institutions without parental consent?
  • Do you support the promotion of sex reassignment therapy for underage children?
  • Do you support the unrestricted exposure of minor children to sexually explicit media content that may affect their development?
  • Do you support the dissemination of media content on gender reassignment to minors?

But for the referendum to be valid, more than 50% of eligible voters had to score a choice on all four questions. According to Hungary National Elections Office, less than 45% of eligible voters voted validly.

Around 20% of ballots were spoiled and social media was flooded with photos of people who decided to draw pictures or otherwise protest, instead of marking an X.

The referendum was largely symbolic and is seen as a response to the European Union, which launched legal action against Hungary last year over legislation passed in parliament.

It prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from viewing pornographic content or material that the government considers to promote homosexuality or transgender issues.

EU friction

The European Commission called the law discriminatory, claiming that this goes against European values ​​and he launched a infringement procedure, which could end with the imposition by the Court of Justice of the EU of financial sanctions against Hungary.

Orbán, who told a Hungarian radio station last year that the EU was engaged in “legalized hooliganism”, spoke about the law during the election campaign, promising that Fidesz would win the elections and the referendum on the law would put an end to the “gender madness”. sweep the western world” to encroach on Hungary.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses his supporters after the announcement of the partial results of the general elections in Hungary on April 3. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

During a campaign rally at Fidesz headquarters on Sunday, party supporter Josef Tatai told CBC that he voted with the government on the matter because he is the father of two daughters.

“Fortunately in Hungary, [children’s exposure to homosexuality and transgender messages] isn’t a big deal so far, but it’s already started, so better stop it early on.”

Referendum a “farce”

Many members of Budapest’s LGBTQ community believe the wording of the referendum questions was so biased that it targeted their community.

“It’s always very disgusting that the government somehow tries to stir up these transphobic and homophobic feelings among the public,” said Evgeny Belyakov, 35, who spoke to CBC at a Budapest gay bar on Saturday night. , before the vote.

WATCH | Hungary’s LGBTQ community responds to the referendum:

The Hungarian LGBT community reacts to the referendum

Victoria Rose and Evegny Belaykov believe that the Hungarian government is targeting the LGBT community with its laws and its referendum. 1:58

Belyakov, who moved to Budapest from Vladivostok, Russia when he was at university, was not eligible to vote in Sunday’s election but encouraged all his Hungarian friends to spoil their ballots because he viewed the referendum as a farce.

He says that overall Budapest is a very welcoming place, and he hopes that Hungary will not follow Russia’s lead when it comes to the perception of the gay community.

“It’s not just the law or the referendum, it’s all… the climate of society, because it can snowball into more and more hatred and violence.”

Belyakov spoke to CBC at The Crush, a bar that hosts nightly drag shows. Among the performers is “Victoria Rose”, whose daily job is to teach mathematics and chemistry.

“I find it really interesting that nobody has a problem with teaching children about sexuality as long as it’s about heterosexuality,” Rose told CBC.

“This party is always looking for enemies. First it was immigrants… and now it’s gays.”

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association called Sunday’s referendum the government’s attempt to distract from “its glaring failures and corruption” and instead use the LGTBQ community as a scapegoat.

Anti-immigration referendum

In 2016, Orbán’s government held a referendum on immigration quotas during a refugee crisis in which thousands of migrants from countries such as Syria and Afghanistan attempted to reach Europe. .

Evgeny Belyakov, 35, is from Russia and said he hoped Hungary would not follow that country’s lead in anti-gay politics and sentiment. (Lily Martin/CBC)

The vast majority of Hungarians who took part in this referendum voted against an EU quota system on the number of migrants each country had to accept. But as with Sunday’s vote, not enough people turned out to make the referendum valid.

Despite the result of the referendum on immigration, Orbán tried to present it as a clear mandate to challenge the European Union on its migration policy.

While Orbán and Fidesz secured a clear majority in Sunday’s vote – a victory he described as so wide it could be seen from Brussels – critics fear the government will feel emboldened to press ahead with this. what Orbán called the “illiberal democracy” of Hungary.

The country is likely to remain at odds with the EU, which has suspended pandemic recovery fund payments to Hungary, as well as Poland, over what it sees as the erosion of democratic issues linked to independence. judiciary, media freedom and minority rights, including the LGBTQ community.