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In Heated Clash, EU Leaders Tell Hungary To Respect LGBT Rights Or Leave

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban leaves at the end of an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on June 25.

European Union leaders say they have told Hungary to respect LGBT rights or leave the bloc, as tempers flared in a confrontation with Prime Minister Viktor Orban over his country's new law banning schools from using materials that could be seen as promoting homosexuality.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters on June 25 that several of his counterparts clashed personally with Orban over the law during the bloc's two-day summit.

"It was really forceful, a deep feeling that this could not be. It was about our values; this is what we stand for," Rutte said of the rancor at the meeting.

The proposed legal changes, which must still be approved by Hungary's president, ban the "display and promotion of homosexuality" or gender change to minors in schools, films, or advertisements.

The issue has turned a harsh spotlight on the EU's inability to rein in the "illiberal democracies" among its ranks like Hungary and Poland, whose deeply conservative, nationalist, and anti-migrant governments have flouted the bloc's democratic standards and values for years.

Only Poland and Slovenia are said to have supported Orban over the law.

"I said, 'Stop this, you must withdraw the law and, if you don't like that and really say that the European values are not your values, then you must think about whether to remain in the European Union,'" said French President Emmanuel Macron, who called it a battle over civilization and culture.

He later pulled back a bit from his comments, saying he was not in favor of kicking Hungary out of the bloc, calling it an "existential question for Europeans."

Ahead of the summit, leaders from 17 of the bloc's 27 members signed a letter deploring any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, saying that "respect and tolerance are at the core of the European project."

While the letter didn't explicitly mention Hungary, its target was thinly veiled.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used unusually harsh language, calling the law "shameful" and said the EU's executive is considering legal action because it violates the bloc's fundamental values.

Orban has fought back at his critics, saying the law isn't against homosexuality, it's about letting parents decide exclusively how they wish to sexually educate their children.

When asked on June 24 if he would revoke the bill, the conservative Hungarian leader dismissed the criticism and said the law was "done."

The clash with the EU is the latest for Orban, who presents himself as a defender of what he says are traditional Christian values from Western liberalism to bolster support from his base.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, the only openly gay prime minister at the meeting, said Budapest should also be subject to an as-yet-untested procedure to cut EU funding for those who violate democratic rules.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
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