By Samantha Singson
Last month, Hungarian President Pal Schmitt signed a controversial new constitution into law that includes a provision for the protection of unborn life “from conception” and the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
While the new constitution easily passed in the Hungarian Parliament by the governing majority, it was without any participation from the smaller opposition party who walked out before the vote. The Council of Europe, UN staff and non-governmental organizations are also questioning the legitimacy of the new constitution as controversy continues to rage over both the content and the process by which the constitution was passed.
Abortion rights groups have targeted Article 2, which states, “The life of a fetus will be protected from conception.” The pro-abortion law firm Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Amnesty International, has campaigned against the provision saying it will lead to restricted access to abortion either by legislative reform or constitutional challenge.
Amnesty International and a number of homosexual rights groups have criticized the constitution’s exclusion of sexual orientation from the protected grounds of discrimination and the clause protecting the traditional definition of marriage because it could serve as the basis of a ban on “same-sex marriages,” which they argue violates European anti-discrimination standards.
Beyond the social issues, critics bemoan what they call a lack of transparency and the short time frame of nine days in which the constitution was passed in Parliament.
The Council of Europe has tasked constitutional experts with reviewing the new law. Experts of the Venice Commission, an independent advisory body, are set to travel to Budapest this month and report back to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to address the concerns surrounding the drafting process.
The Friday Fax first reported on the Venice Commission in 2008. The Commission featured prominently in the Kosovo constitutional process, pushing a draft constitution that removed protection for unborn life by only providing protection “from birth,” included non-discrimination status on the basis of “sexual orientation,” and removed references to men and women in its marriage article. Kosovo’s parliament ultimately adopted the controversial draft constitution, but removed “from birth” from its right to life article.
Roger Kiska of Alliance Defense Fund was “overjoyed” by the new Hungarian constitution calling it a victory for democracy, for life and the family, and for Hungary. Kiska found “shameful” the attempts by the European institutions to undermine the Hungarian government, a government overwhelmingly approved by popular electoral vote, he said. “I hope that Hungary stays strong in its convictions because what is at stake, life and the family, are too high a price to pay simply to appease the bureaucrats in Brussels.”
The Hungarian government has maintained that the law is fully in line with the European Union’s fundamental charter of human rights and argued that the reform was necessary to replace the outmoded ‘Stalinist’ document dating from 1949. The new constitution comes into force on January 1, 2012.
Originally published in Fridayfax on May 5, 2011. FridayFax is a publication of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM).