Hungary’s upcoming referendum: a Catch-22 situation — and a way out

We have previously reported in this blog on the June 2021 Hungarian bill, allegedly a “child protection”, anti-pedophile act that unmistakably targeted the LGBTQI+ community in an attempt to keep them hidden from the public eye. This bill was passed amid negative reception from most Hungarian people and the international community. 

Prolonging the public opinion’s focus, the Government has called a referendum to confirm the act a posteriori. It’s not accidental that the referendum will be held on the same day as the general election of 3 April 2022. A referendum like this is absolutely atypical because, normally, it should have taken place before a legal amendment. The only goal of this referendum is to mobilise the voter basis of the governing populist party. 

The referendum comprises four questions:

  1. Do you support the teaching of sexual orientation to minors in public education institutions without parental consent?
  2. Do you support the promotion of sex reassignment therapy for underage children?
  3. Do you support the unrestricted exposure of underage children to sexually explicit media content that may affect their development?
  4. Do you support the showing of sex-change media content to minors?

Although civic organisations (advocacy groups, NGOs, LGBTQI+ support networks) objected to holding the referendum, the Supreme Court found only one question legally problematic. The government appealed against this ruling, and the Constitutional Court finally permitted the vote on all questions. 

Besides their exclusionary content, the main problem with these questions is that they don’t make any sense —it is very much a Catch-22 situation—. While the Government and its supporting Fidesz party encourage people to say no to all questions, nobody in Hungary wants to say yes. If you answer no, you support the government’s homophobic project. If you say yes, you can be referred to as a pedophile. Anyway, if yes should unexpectedly win, it would be against Hungary’s Fundamental Law, which clearly bans changing its regulations (including the summer 2021 amendment) via a referendum. Therefore, the referendum obviously infringes on the Constitution. 

In light of this, the LGBTQI+ community and their supporters had to figure out how to counter the referendum campaign — and thus the idea of casting invalid votes was born. This means you have to vote for both options (both yes and no; see here, here, and here). First, only this ensures that a “no” vote cannot be filled in where a ballot has left both options empty. Second, according to Hungarian law, only if the number of valid votes is over fifty percent of the electorate can a referendum have legal consequences. So, the goal is to avoid reaching the validity threshold. 

However, there are two factors that volunteers must face. On the one hand, the fact that the campaign is under the shadow of the general election, which is the greater focus of the opposition’s party alliance. On the other hand is the experience of the anti-migrant referendum in 2016, when the low turnout (about 44% of the electorate, with 6% invalid votes) did not stop the Government from declaring the referendum’s validity on the basis that a significant majority of valid votes (98.3%; see here) supported the Government’s position. 

We must not forget that both campaigns are under way during a war in Hungary’s neighbouring Ukraine. The Russian aggression visibly pushed Orbán and his Government to the West. We can only hope that Putin’s influence on Hungary’s internal policies will grow weaker, and the LGBTQI+ community will be less cross-targeted in the future.

This entry contributed by the Hungarian team of Zoltan, Erzsébet, Imre, Kevin and László — maradj erős csapat!

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