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Moldova Activists Deplore Setback On Gay Rights

A tolerance test for Chisinau?
A tolerance test for Chisinau?
Moldovan human rights activists have expressed regret over a government decision to withdraw a bill from parliament that would ban discrimination on many grounds, including sexual orientation, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

The issue of gay rights is divisive in the predominantly Christian Orthodox country, but ensuring safeguards for homosexuals is a precondition for deeper ties with the European Union.

Iulia Marcinschi of the Antidiscrimination Coalition told RFE/RL that the government's decision, announced on March 30, would mean "delaying the rights of the gay community, which needs those rights as soon as possible."

But Marcinschi added that her group and other NGOs would use the delay to familiarize the Moldovan public with the gay rights agenda through TV debates, seminars, and lectures.

The coalition government submitted the bill to parliament in February. Its adoption is a requirement ahead of an association agreement with the European Union and visa-free travel for its citizens inside the 27-member bloc.

According to an action plan Brussels gave Moldova in December, the antidiscrimination bill should be passed in 2011.

But the bill came under fire from religious groups and the opposition Communist Party over its "sexual orientation" clause and was eventually criticized openly even by members of the ruling coalition.

On March 30, Justice Minister Alexandru Tanase said the bill had insufficient support in parliament and said the government would try to amend it to make more palatable to the public and to lawmakers. He did not say how the bill could be changed or when it might be reintroduced.

Some religious groups want the "sexual orientation" clause scrapped altogether, while conservative politicians in the ruling coalition have suggested adding provisions to ensure it is the last "concession" made to the gay community in an effort to preempt an public discussion of civil unions or gay marriage.

Last week, a European official tasked with helping Moldova bring its laws closer to EU standards urged Chisinau to pass the antidiscrimination bill on time and without changes.

Monica Macovei, a Romanian deputy in the European Parliament who heads the EU-Moldova interparliamentary commission, told RFE/RL that keeping the "sexual orientation" clause in the bill was "not negotiable" for the EU.

"Of course the Moldovan parliament can change the bill," Macovei said, "but that will only mean a waste of time, because in the end they will have to adopt the law as it should be."

Marcinschi of the Antidiscrimination Coalition says that controversy surrounding the bill has led to an increase in harassment of homosexuals.