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Europe

European Parliamentarians Stand Up Against Homophobia

Religious leaders and conservatives rejected the European Parliament's resolution against homophobia, but others hailed it as an important signal to EU countries where gays and lesbians still face discrimination.

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Still not embraced by all of Europe

An overwhelming majority of EU parliamentarians adopted the resolution, which urges member states to grant gay people "the same respect, dignity and protection as the rest of society."

The document came about because of "a series of worrying events (that) has recently taken place in a number of member states," such as bans on gay pride marches, hate speeches by political and religious leaders, breaking up of demonstrations by police, homophobic violence and constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex unions.

Catholic leaders immediately criticized the resolution.

Symbolbild Kirche und Homosexualität

The Catholic church opposes violence against gays but does not support gay unions

"The declaration shows an aversion for certain values of our tradition, notably religious values," Aldo Giordano, the secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, told Vatican Radio. "Such resolutions risk delegitimizing the European Parliament. It should be clear that certain subjects, especially those relating to the family, are not within the direct competence of the European Union but are the recognized competence of nations."

That argument was echoed by those opposing the resolution in parliament.

"I think that this is a case of Europe getting involved in things that are none of Europe's business," said Angelika Niebler, one of 27 conservative German members of the European parliament (MEP) who voted against the declaration.

An essential reaction to homophobia?

While an EU directive requires member states to protect gay people against discrimination regarding employment, national laws vary widely in other areas. While a range of countries, including Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain, have legalized gay civil unions, others are far from doing so.

Altstadt von Riga Lettland

Latvia is not the most gay-friendly place in Europe

In Latvia, for example, the EU anti-discrimination directive has not been implemented and a constitutional amendment defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"The situation is a bleak one," said Ilze Brands Kehris, the director of the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies. "It's absolutely essential that we have these kinds of reactions internationally."

She added that her country's young democracy still had a lot to learn.

"The Soviet period blocked any kind of development on tolerance issues," she said. "You have to activate civil society in coalition with the international signals to bring change over time in Latvia."

Will actions follow?

Lech Kaczynski beim Papst

Polish President Lech Kaczynski (left) and Pope Benedict XVI have similar views on gay marriage

In Poland, where President Lech Kaczynski barred gay pride marches during his tenure as mayor of Warsaw and Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz called for state protection against homosexual "contamination" of society, gay rights activists also said they had high hopes for the resolution.

"When you hear from the prime minister that homosexuality is abnormal, that we should be cured, that they will try to cure us by force, this is quite frightening," said Robert Biedron, the head of Warsaw-based Campaign against Homophobia.

Angela Merkel mit Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Polens Premierminister

Will Merkel mention gay rights next time she meets Marcinkiewicz?

"I think that this resolution is very important for new European member states as a reminder on which way the new democracies should go," he added.

But while welcoming the resolution, German gay rights activist Jörg Litwinschuh said it's only worth something if actions follow.

"If nothing changes, sanctions have to happen," he said, adding that his Initiative Queer Nations would also lobby Chancellor Angela Merkel to address discrimination against gay people in her meetings with foreign leaders.

Recognizing the Nazis' gay victims

Denkmalsentwurf für homosexuelle Opfer des Nationalsozialismus

The memorial will resemble the one fore Jewish Holocaust victims

Litwinschuh is the executive director of a consortium of German scientists and celebrities that plans to reopen the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute, the first center to study homosexuality, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.

He said that he was particularly pleased that the resolution also called on "member states concerned finally to accord full recognition to homosexuals as targets and victims of the Nazi regime." A big step in that direction was already taken last week, when Berlin announced plans to build a national memorial for homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis.

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