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EU candidate Georgia wants to outlaw LGBTQ 'propaganda'

March 31, 2024

Georgia's ruling party has proposed constitutional changes to restrict LGBTQ rights — yet another initiative that could threaten the country's long-awaited EU membership.

Anti-LGBT protesters burn a rainbow banner
In recent years, Tbilisi has faced problems with protesters at its Pride WeekImage: IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/REUTERS

Georgian authorities want to be part of the European Union— but without what they claim is LGBTQ "propaganda” and "pseudo-liberal values."

The country's ruling party, Georgian Dream, has proposed a constitutional amendment along those lines, to "protect family values and minors." 

Mamuka Mdinaradze, leader of the Georgian Dream parliamentary majority, said the constitutional amendments will allow marriage only of "a union of a single genetic male and a single genetic female."

"Now, if someone wants to force same-sex marriage on us, we will tell them that it is prohibited by our constitution," he said earlier this month.

Experts have said the changes wouldn't be passed until later this year, most likely after elections are held in October. If adopted, it would outlaw any kind of LGBTQ-related gatherings. It would also prohibit same-sex marriages, gender transition and the adoption of children by same-sex couples.

Early campaigning for October elections?

Critics of the ruling party — primarily opposition politicians and civil society groups — have sharply criticized the bill, calling it populist. Some experts believe the ruling party is exploiting conservative attitudes to gain more votes in October's parliamentary elections.

"The opposition would find itself in a very awkward situation. If they claim that they are in favor of LGBTQ rights, it could impact them during the elections because Georgian society is quite conservative," Kornely Kakachia, a political science professor and director of the Tbilisi-based Georgian Institute of Politics, told DW.

Georgia's youth turn to European Union with Russia looming

Vakhushti Menabde, a former constitutional lawyer at Georgia's Public Defender's Office, said it's hard to know whether Georgian Dream will be able to pass the amendments despite having a majority in parliament. "They don't have enough deputies to change the constitution, but I cannot rule out that they will manage to win over some opposition MPs too," he explained.

He worries about the potential for such amendments to polarize Georgian society and the risk of conflict among different social groups.

Menabde and others have also noted how similar the proposals are to recent Russian laws that aim to repress the LGBTQ community. Georgia has also previously tried to emulate Russia with a so-called "foreign agents" law, which required organizations that receive over 20% of their funding from outside the country to register as “foreign agents." 

In practice, rights organizations have said these kinds of laws have been used against civil society and opposition groups. After huge and at times violent protests in 2023, Georgia's "foreign agents" law was scrapped.

The new proposed constitutional amendments are seen by many as another version of "the Russian law." 

"It is a fact that, apart from Russia, no state in the world has anti-democratic interests in Georgia," Paata Zakareishvili, Georgia's former minister for reconciliation and civil equality, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty earlier this month. "Naturally, for me this is Russian law."

Attacks on Georgia's LGBTQ community

Despite its EU aspirations, Georgian society tends to be defined by conservative values. The Georgian Orthodox Church serves as one of society's most important institutions and plays a crucial role in society and politics.

Around 56% of Georgian respondents to the UN Women survey in 2022 believed the rights of the LGBTQ community should be upheld, but that "its members should not impose their way of life on others."

A woman holds a placard during an anti-governmental rally that reads "Who is next?"
In recent years, anti-government protesters have demonstrated against violence targeting the LGBTQ+ communityImage: Sputnik/dpa/picture alliance

In July 2023, right-wing protesters foiled Pride Week in Tbilisi, wreaking havoc just as the festival was about to start. Dozens were injured, including journalists covering the event. The organizers of the Tbilisi Pride have repeatedly accused the Interior Ministry, as well as anti-Western groups, of orchestrating coordinated attacks on the event.

How has the EU responded?

"As an EU candidate country, Georgia is expected to align its laws with EU legislation," the EU delegation in Georgia, which plays an ambassadorial role inside the country, told DW in a written statement.

"The candidate country must have achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing respect for human rights and respect for and protection of minorities" to qualify for EU membership, it added.

Demonstrators shout slogans during a rally in support of the country's membership in the European Union
More than 80% of Georgians support their country's bid for EU membershipImage: Shakh Aivazov/AP/picture alliance

Georgia was granted EU candidate status in December, an eagerly awaited start to becoming a member of the bloc. The European Commission also set nine conditions for bringing Georgia closer to the EU. These included addressing the issue of political polarization, improving protection of human rights and avoiding foreign interference in domestic politics.

But the newly proposed amendments don't appear to align with these conditions. 

Tbilisi is trying to strike a balance, said political science professor Kakachia: holding onto power in the next elections and keeping up with Georgians' EU ambitions at the same time. 

"On one hand, to retain power, the ruling party has to keep on the EU track, something that is supported by more than 80% of Georgians," he said. "However, they've already started to dictate their terms to Brussels. They want to be like Orban," he noted, referring to Hungarian prime minister. "But Hungary is already [a member of] the EU."

Edited by: Cathrin Schaer