The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, announced on Wednesday that he would put the issue of LGBT+ rights to a popular vote, in a move that will be seen as defiance against the EU’s pressure on Budapest.
EU leaders have previously expressed frustration with Hungary after its parliament passed a law that the bloc says discriminates against LGBT+ people.
Mr Orban accused Brussels of abusing its powers, in a statement that reflected his government’s anger at the European Commission’s pressure over recent amendments to Hungary’s education and child protection laws.
“The future of our children is at stake, so we cannot cede ground in this issue,” he said in a Facebook video.
The plans to hold a referendum are widely seen as a step towards escalating the cultural war between the two sides, as Mr Orban, who came to power in 2010, prepares for decisive elections next April.
Last week, the EU opened two legal infringement cases against the law, which bans schools and TV stations from using materials deemed as promoting homosexuality or gender change. The Hungarian law also forbids sharing with under-18s any data that the government could deem as promoting homosexuality or gender change.
The leaders of 17 EU countries expressed in a letter their shared concerns, saying that Hungary’s position on the LGBT+ law threatens the fundamental rights of EU citizens.
But Orban seems determined to hold his ground on the issue, which is central to his bid to promote himself as a guardian of traditional values against liberalism promoted by the EU. Many observers argue that his government’s campaign against LGBT+ rights resonates well among social conservatives, who make up most of his voting base.
Mr Orban has deliberately portrayed the controversial law as a child-protection issue, which he says protects Hungarian children from the EU’s “sexual propaganda”.
His comments infuriated Brussels, which sees the law, and other cultural disputes with eastern European members, as a clear drift away from core European values.
Calling the law a “disgrace”, the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said last week: “This legislation uses the protection of children as an excuse to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation.”
Mr Orban said on Wednesday: “In the past weeks, Brussels has clearly attacked Hungary over its child protection law. Hungarian laws do not permit sexual propaganda in kindergartens, schools, on television and in advertisements.”
He did not announce when the planned referendum would be held but said it would include five questions.
These will include asking Hungarians whether they support holding sexual orientation workshops in schools without their consent or whether they believe gender reassignment procedures should be promoted among children.
Mr Orban said the questions would also include whether the content that could affect children’s sexual orientation should be shown without any restrictions, and whether gender reassignment procedure should be made available to children.
Additional reporting by agencies