by Steve Williams October 29, 2015
This year the Religious Right was forced to concede it had largely lost the fight to prevent marriage equality across the United States, but now a number of U.S. groups appear to be turning their attention to Europe with the intent of helping European activists define away marriage equality and LGBT parent family rights.
This latest attack comes in the form of a legislative proposal (.pdf) which is being made by a European group of religious conservatives calling themselves the Citizens Committee. Under the European Citizens’ Initiative that was enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon, European citizens can, through the process of gathering signatures (any one proposal needs at least one million to qualify), call on the European Commission to propose new legislation that would affect the entire EU. The initiative doesn’t directly compel the Commission and the Commission can reject proposals, as it did with attempts to block TTIP, though it does mean that the European Commission would be forced to argue a case against taking up any initiative.
Unsurprisingly, the proposal in question here goes through a number of contortions to try to cherry pick and tie together existing but separate declarations of European family law, highlighting things like “rights of family” and “mother and father” parental roles. Whereas the earlier clauses of the text try to be subtle about their anti-gay bias however, the latter half of the text shows the group’s agenda far more clearly.
For example we have this sleight of hand to undermine marriage equality rights throughout Europe (emphasis added):
(11) The relationship between a father or mother and his or her child is ipso facto a family relationship. By contrast, the relationship between the parents is a family relationship only as a result of their freely expressed will to found a family. In legal systems where the institution of marriage is available this will is manifested through the legal act of marriage. In a legal sense, therefore, the notion of family should be defined through descent and marriage. (12) It therefore appears adequate and reasonable to provide a specific legal status with specific protections to the union between a man and a woman; (13) It appears equally adequate and reasonable that an equal status and equal protections should not be provided to other life forms that are different in fact and purpose from marriage.
In asserting the above as facts, the legislation then launches into its main purpose of trying to prevent the European courts from compelling member states into enacting marriage equality:
Article 2 – Definition of marriage, family and family life In determining the meaning of any legal act pertaining to EU law, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the European Commission or of any EU agencies, (a) the word ‘marriage’ means a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife;
The proposed legislation also dispenses with Article 2 of a 2004 European Union directive on freedom of movement, essentially meaning that the European Court of Human Rights would be precluded from compelling memberstates to recognize same-sex marriages entered into from outside their borders, which is a key protection. In addition, the text takes aim at recognition of same-sex spouses or partners under existing statutes relating to criminal law that is used in cases of spousal abuse and other family conflicts.
At its heart this proposed initiative is, functionally at least, much like the Federal Marriage Amendment that religious conservatives in the U.S. have sought as a means to undermine and indeed stonewall marriage equality progress. It also seems to be very mindful of the EU court being able to compel states that haven’t allowed for marriage equality into doing so, something that religious conservatives weren’t able to head-off in the U.S.
Right Wing Watch, who first brought this matter to light, notes that the Citizens’ Committee behind this so-called “Mum, Dad & Kids” initiative have heavy ties to the American religious right, including Maria Hildingsson who worked against marriage equality in Ireland this year, among other initiatives, as well as anti-abortion campaigner Grégor Puppinck who, Right Wing Watch notes, “directs the European Centre for Law and Justice, an arm of the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice.” You can see a full list of the many U.S. ties over at Right Wing Watch.
This isn’t the first time that the American Religious Right has attempted to prevent LGBT rights advancing. The American Right infamously provided fuel for Uganda’s now notorious Kill the Gays legislation and encouraged Russia’s national LGBT propaganda ban. In addition, several organizations including the National Organization for Marriage attempted to derail marriage equality in France and, as a result, we saw an escalation of violence against the gay community.
To be clear, the initiative appears unlikely to get off the ground in Europe if only for the broad way in which it takes a hammer to European laws and the fact that attempts to attack freedom of movement have previously been rejected by the Commission, so even if the group can muster enough signatures this broad attack appears unlikely to succeed.
What we do have to be concerned about, however, is the anti-gay rhetoric that will probably emerge as a result of this attempt, and how that could cause untold harm to the safety of LGBTs in European countries that do not provide legislative safeguards.