BRUSSELS — The European Union's chief executive vowed Wednesday to take any action necessary to thwart a new law in Hungary that would ban content portraying or promoting homosexuality or sex reassignment to children.
The Hungarian parliament passed the bill last week, but it must be endorsed by the president to take effect. It prohibits sharing content on homosexuality or sex reassignment to people under 18 in school sex education programs, films or advertisements. The government says it's meant to protect children but critics of the law say it links homosexuality with pedophilia.
"This Hungarian bill is a shame," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. "This bill clearly discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation. It goes against the fundamental values of the European Union: human dignity, equality and respect for human rights."
"I believe in a European Union where you are free to be who you are and love whomever you want," she said in a statement. "I will use all the powers of the commission to ensure that the rights of all EU citizens are guaranteed. Whoever they are and wherever they live within the European Union."
Von der Leyen said she had instructed her commissioners to send a letter to Hungary laying out her legal concerns before the bill formally becomes law. The commission proposes legislation on behalf of the 27 EU member countries and ensures that the rules are respected.
The Hungarian government, for its part, said von der Leyen's statement "is a shame because it is based on false allegations" and "because it publishes a biased political opinion without a previously conducted, impartial inquiry."
"The recently adopted Hungarian bill protects the rights of children, guarantees the rights of parents and does not apply to the sexual orientation rights of those over 18 years of age, so it does not contain any discriminatory elements," a government statement said.
The issue is due to be raised at Europe's top table on Thursday night, when EU leaders meet in Brussels for a two-day summit.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers that she think's "this law is wrong, and it's incompatible with my idea of politics — if you allow homosexual, same-sex partnerships but restrict information about them elsewhere, that also has to do with freedom of education and the like."
She said that proceedings against Hungary on the legislation were a matter for the European Commission to decide on "but in any case it draws clear criticism from me."
Earlier this month, EU lawmakers threatened to sue the commission if it fails to act against countries like Hungary if they flout democratic standards. EU Parliament President David Sassoli said Wednesday that he had written to von der Leyen insisting on action.
"We are convinced that there have been flagrant violations of the principles of the rule of law by certain member states, which need to be sanctioned," Sassoli said. "If there is no reaction from the commission within the timeframe specified in the treaties, we will take action in the (EU) court of justice."