LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

‘Homosexual propaganda’ bans are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and should be repealed

Laws banning ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and should be repealed, says European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)

On 18 June 2013 the European Commission for Democracy through Law published its opinion on existing or proposed laws banning ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova, and said that such laws should be repealed as “statutory provisions prohibiting ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ are incompatible with the ECHR and international human rights standards”.

In a robust and outright rejection of these laws, it argued that their provisions did not seem to be limited to sexually explicit content, but rather applied to “legitimate expressions of sexual orientation”. It stressed that “homosexuality as a variation of sexual orientation, is protected under the ECHR and as such, cannot be deemed contrary to morals by public authorities”. And it added that prohibiting “propaganda of homosexuality”, as opposed to “propaganda of heterosexuality”, without any reasonable or objective criteria to justify the difference, amounted to discrimination on the basis of the content of speech about sexual orientation.

Finally, it suggested that the real aim of these measures was not so much, as claimed, the promotion of traditional values and attitudes towards family and sexuality, but rather the curtailment of non-traditional ones by punishing their expression and promotion. As such, they were not just violations of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and non-discrimination, but were incompatible with the underlying values of the ECHR as a whole.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of ILGA-Europe said:

“We welcome this overwhelming repudiation of these laws by the experts of the Venice Commission. In the case of Russia, the Upper House of the Federal Parliament should reject the law banning ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ adopted last week in the Lower House, and the Ukrainian Parliament should reject the equivalent legislation now before it.

However, we are particularly concerned at the increasingly anti-democratic trend in Russia, and at the serious suppression of civil society organisations, and once again call on international and European organisations to take meaningful and effective measures to halt this trend”.

The European Commission for Democracy through Law - better known as the Venice Commission as it meets in Venice - is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters. Its role is to provide legal advice to its member states and, in particular, to help states wishing to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Commission has 59 member states: the 47 Council of Europe member states, plus 12 other countries (Algeria, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Tunisia and the USA). Its individual members, constitutional law experts, are appointed by the member states, but act as independent experts: