July 16, 2012
By Jacob Combs
The EUobserver reports that the European Commission has decided that respect for LGBT rights and protections will be required of new nations seeking member status in the political union. In its note announcing the decision, the Commission cited portions of the EU Treaty which ban discrimination against “minorities” and the European Charter on Fundamental Rights, which contains explicit nondiscrimination provisions protecting gays and lesbians.
The note was provided to EUobserver after a question regarding the matter arose through an interview of an Armenian cleric. Armenia, a devoutly religious country, has hopes of being an EU member, but ranks above only Moldova and Russia in terms of protections for LGBT people, according to one rights group.
Ulrike Lunacek, a co-chair of one of the European Parliament’s gay rights groups, said that although some countries have distinct cultural norms towards homosexuality, “accession of a country [into the EU] will not be possible if certain LGBTI rights are not put into law and into practice.” On the other hand, Lunacek acknowledged that the EU should take it upon itself to work with conservative countries to help change attitudes. ”That is what the EU also stands for: co-operation instead of confrontation, openness instead of fear.”
This EU policy could make some waves as the union mulls expanding to include countries with more conservative social mores. Obviously, respect for tradition is important, and some cultures will evolve more slowly than others on issues of LGBT equality. But the EU’s statement is an important one because it sends a simple message: to be part of one of the most powerful political unions in the country, you must uphold the equality of all your citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation. That is a powerful statement that LGBT rights are inalienable and immutable.