Same-sex parenthood draws unexpected support in Hungary

3 weeks ago
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Firms from Ikea to a Michelin star restaurant have signed up for a campaign in defense of same-sex parenthood in Hungary, bringing unexpected resistance to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

The Family Is Family campaign has enlisted 140 companies so far, up from 40 in February, in response to steps by Orban to effectively ban adoption for same-sex partners and enshrine in the constitution the idea that marriage is possible only between a man and a woman. The ranks include international giants such as Levi Strauss & Co. and WarnerMedia’s HBO, as well as small- to mid-sized local businesses.

The drive’s popularity is surprising even its organizers in a country where companies have long been wary of taking a stand against Orban. Hungary’s premier since 2010, Orban has sought to consolidate his hold over courts and civil society, and is embroiled in clashes with European Union leaders alarmed by his authoritarian turn.

“A lot of people are afraid, and many told me not to support this campaign,” said Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter, who owns Babel, a Michelin star restaurant in Budapest. He lives with his male partner and one day hopes to raise a child. “I’m not scared of any government sanctions, but honestly that would just make the campaign resonate more. This isn’t about politics, it’s about human rights.”

For years, Orban and his followers have been promoting what they call conservative Christian values. The moves against the LGBTQ community are designed to fire up his voters ahead of elections in 2022, with polls showing the four-term premier trailing a united opposition. Yet they sit uncomfortably with the majority of Hungarians, according to one survey in December, with many rejecting them as a step too far.

They only have to look to Poland, where more than 80 municipalities have declared LGBTQ-free zones, to see where such measures can lead.

It’s hard to predict how successful the Family Is Family campaign will be. Civil society groups critical of the government have been labeled foreign agents while an entire university that promoted an open society jarring with Orban’s nationalist vision was expelled.

And after videos associated with the drive racked up over 7 million views on TikTok and were featured as part of public service ad on RTL Klub, the most-watched commercial TV channel in Hungary, the government took note.

Hungary’s media authority — led by a council whose members were all picked by the ruling party — has started a probe of the ads, according to RTL Klub, a unit of Germany media giant Bertelsmann SE. The regulator confirmed the news, but declined to comment.

In the past, businesses remained largely silent when the government imposed special taxes on entire sectors while extending generous subsidies to companies that strike up an alliance with the ruling elite. Investors rate Hungary seventh-worst globally in “favoritism” by government officials, according to the World Economic Forum.

“The government doesn’t like to meet resistance, and companies that stand in its way can easily become targets,” said Attila Chikan, a former economy minister for Orban and business professor at Corvinus University in Budapest.

Chikan is also a supervisory board member of Hungarian energy company Mol Nyrt. and pharmaceutical firm Gedeon Richter Nyrt, both partially state-owned and neither part of the campaign.

Indeed, though the drive is growing nearly every day — with figures from the sporting and media worlds and even embassies voicing support — one kind of company is still missing, Hungary’s largest. None of the 14 members that make up the main Budapest stock exchange index nor any state-controlled corporations have signed on.

Marton Pal, one of the campaign organizers, is hoping there’s safety in numbers for those that do. He said they didn’t launch until they had a large group of backers because “it’s easy to pick off one company, but how do you shoot at more than a hundred targets at once?”

Adrienne Feller Cosmetics, a family firm set up in 1999 that produces beauty products and essential oils in a small town an hour’s drive east from Budapest, was among the first to sign on and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We normally don’t join such campaigns but we just thought that what’s happening in Hungary was getting to be too much,” said Madeleine Feller, head of marketing and the founder’s daughter. “This isn’t about politics or being anti-government, it’s about supporting families of all stripes.”

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