New family law a blow to gender equality in Lithuania

Society in Lithuania is rather reluctant to recognize LGBT rights. On 3rd November 2017, Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaitė signed the controversial Law on the Strengthening of the Family, despite calls from over 100 NGOs and academics to veto it. Those calling for a veto argue that the bill is aimed at "sorting" families, rather than strengthening them, and that it will prove detrimental to promoting gender equality. According to Freedom House's most recent Nations in Transit report, an improvement in the situation for LGBT persons in Lithuania is unlikely in the near future.

However, there have been some positive developments of late. In early November 2017, the justice ministry drafted a bill that would allow transgender people to “have their gender, first and last names, and personal code changed in their identification documents without a court ruling”.

Expression

The law on advertising in Lithuania includes a provision that ads may be prohibited if they violate the principles of public morality or denigrate religious symbols. The Human Rights Monitoring Institute reported that in October 2017, a fine of €1,500 was given to a restaurant in Vilnius that had posted a picture of a smiling, crucified Jesus crowned with marijuana leaves, squirting BBQ sauce (as shown above). The bistro, Keulė Rūkė, is famous for expressing its critical position on state censorship and the government's meddling in private matters. The owners of the bistro plan to appeal the decision.

In a separate incident, on 30th October a court in Vilnius imposed a "restriction of freedom" on Jurijus Subotinas for writing "Thank you Stalin, Snieckus and the Soviet administration. Those who do not like being with Russia – get lost from Lithuania, you can go to America". To deny or “grossly trivialise” crimes against the humanity, including Soviet or Nazi German crimes against Lithuania or its citizens, is a crime under the Lithuanian law. Subotinas's message was written in a comment under an article on the internet. According to the court's sentence, Subotinas, who claims the comments were written by somebody else, is on house arrest between the hours of 10pm and 5am for the next 14 months. 

Also in regards to information on issues around LGBT communities and other sexual minorities, the Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information bans exposing minors to any materials that “agitate for homosexual, bisexual, and polygamous relations”. There have been several cases reported in which public information on the rights of LGBT people has been restricted. One example is the case of the children’s book “Gintarinė širdis” (Amber heart), which was written to show the diversity of individuals in society and was marked with stickers warning about the negative impact the book may have on children under the age of 14.