Last edited: February 14, 2005

Romania rejects decriminalising gay sex

Reuters, June 30, 1998

By Roxana Dascalu

BUCHAREST - Romania's parliament on Tuesday rejected a government proposal to decriminalise gay sex and align laws with Europe-wide standards, drawing immediate criticism from the Council of Europe.

The lower house Chamber of Deputies voted against changes to the post- communist criminal code which would have scrapped jail sentences meted out to homosexuals.

"It would be immoral to legalise homosexual sex," said Emil Popescu, a lawyer and member of the Christian Democrats, the main party in the centrist coalition government.

"Homosexual couples are sterile. They cannot breed. We want a healthy nation," he said to applause from a cross-section of members of the chamber, which is overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Local human rights groups criticised the vote as a serious mistake liable to unleash a strong international lobby against Romania's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

The Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights watchdog, had agreed to stop monitoring the situation in Romania on the assumption that the changes would go through.

Finland's Gunnar Jannson, a spokesman on Romanian affairs at the Council of Europe, said that the vote was "not a very wise decision on three counts."

"The first and most serious is that when Romania joined the Council of Europe, it undertook to amend this article 200 to draw into line with European standards," he told Reuters in Strasbourg.

"Secondly, Prime Minister Radu Vasile, while visiting the Council of Europe in April 1998, undertook to present this amendment. I cannot blame the government, but if it has a parliamentary majority, this amendment should have been adopted."

The third reason, he said, was that this would mean that the council's parliamentary assembly, at its next sitting in September, would now almost certainly demand to reopen its monitoring in Romania and send a mission to Bucharest.

Romanian Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica, the driving force behind the changes, last month submitted to parliament a set of changes to the criminal code, which would have legalised homosexuality.

The vote kept in place existing post-communist laws under which homosexual acts are subject to legal action if they "cause a scandal" - generally meaning if they are publicly denounced.

Romanian society has been slow to accept gay rights.

A law adopted by the leftists who ran Romania from the fall of communism in 1989 until 1996 made gay sex punishable by jail terms of up to three years, depending on circumstances.

The number of people held in jails on homosexuality charges is unknown, but one woman sentenced to three years was released this year after serving half her term.

Tuesday's parliamentary debate degenerated at times into uproar in the chamber, located in the marble-lined palace built by executed communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Conservatives on both government and opposition benches denounced "sexual deviation."

"This is against Christian morals," former Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara said. "We should define clearly the moment when sexual intercourse starts. Does it start with a kiss?"

The Orthodox Church, one of the most conservative in Europe with the nominal allegiance of more than 80 percent of 22 million Romanians, considers homosexuality a deadly sin.

Church patriarch Teoctist has denounced homosexual behaviour in pastoral messages for Orthodox Easter.

The parliamentary vote also threw out the Justice Ministry's plans to revise libel laws under which journalists have been convicted of "insults."

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