Last edited: February 14, 2005

Romania Deputies OK Sodomy Reform

PlanetOut, June 28, 2000

Summary: Another effort to make its sex laws meet European standards seems to show that Romanian politicians just don’t get what discrimination is.

Under continuing pressure from Europe, Romania’s Chamber of Deputies has once again made a move to decriminalize consensual homosexual acts — but once again has done so in a way that leaves the door open for abuses, human rights groups say. Romania’s politicians have been struggling for years between the economic lure of European participation and the pull of powerful religious and nationalist sentiments. But while the deputies’ earliest debates on the topic of homosexuality ended in near-riots, the current proposal passed by 180 - 14 with 40 abstentions. If the Council of Europe doesn’t see decriminalization and a number of other legal reforms by August 4, it will renew its supervision of Romania’s human rights situation, and that would certainly delay the country’s hoped-for membership in the European Union.

The latest legal reform deletes specific references to gays, but continues to punish public "perverted sexual acts" — defined as "abnormal sexual practices including oral and anal sex" and "any unnatural acts in connection with sexual life" — with up to five years imprisonment. Public heterosexual acts can be punished with up to two years imprisonment. Enactment of the new law will require approval by the Senate and President Emil Constantinescu.

The Romanian gay and lesbian activist group ACCEPT’s (The Bucharest Acceptance Group) managing director Adrian Coman told the Associated Press of the current bill, "The issue has not been solved. What am I supposed to do now? Should I go downtown and kiss a man to see whether I am punished?" The issue is not unlike Romania’s first stab at sodomy reform in 1996, which left a gaping loophole for actions causing a "public scandal," meaning offense to another person. That loophole continued harassment and extortion by police and incarceration of gays and lesbians in violent and substandard conditions.

Coman told Reuters, "Punishing by law a group of people is discriminatory. The Deputies did nothing but played with words. Deputies didn’t seem to understand what it is all about. They eliminated one article but kept another one maintaining different treatments for heterosexuals and homosexuals. They persist in discrimination, despite the Council of Europe’s recommendations. It is sad that Romania remains on a list with Armenia, Chechnya and the [Bosnian] Republika Serbska [as the last European nations] where homosexuals are still criminalized and discriminated against."

Since the fall of Communism in 1989 Coman said, "The only improvement is that now we have hope that sometime we might be treated as equals to any other human being." At least it’s been reported that currently no one is incarcerated in Romania for consensual homosexual acts — and if so that is an improvement in just the last couple of years. In the celebrated case of Mariane Cetiner, simply asking another woman to have sex with her in 1995 resulted in some 3-1/2 years in prison until Constantinescu ultimately arranged for her release under international pressure.

But ACCEPT does not necessarily accept the official story that no one is incarcerated now, and its members are well aware that police abuse continues.

The Romanian Orthodox Church, which counts more than 80% of the nation among its nominal membership, issued a statement before the vote that "condoning" homosexuality would "be harmful to the Christian belief." It said that the Council of Europe, instead of demanding equal status for gays and lesbians, "should accept us with our specific nature, and not try to impose another way of being" — an ironic choice of words for the subject of sexual orientation.

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