What should have been a time of celebration for gay people in France turned into a nightmare when, a few weeks before France was due to become the latest European country to allow same-sex marriage, a young couple was assaulted in Paris on 7 April for being gay. Far from being an isolated incident, it was part of a nation-wide rise in attacks against homosexuals. A significant portion of the population opposed government plans to give gay people the right to wed and adopt children and hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest. Proposals to introduce gay marriage in Britain also proved controversial and led to a widely-reported rift in the Conservative party, despite PM David Cameron supporting the legislation.
Homosexuality is still far from universally accepted in Europe. Nearly half (47%) of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people said they had personally felt discriminated against or harassed on the grounds of sexual orientation in the past year, while one in four (26%) had been attacked or threatened with violence in the last five years, according to the largest survey ever conducted among the LGBT community in Europe. The survey was carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) among more than 93,000 people in the EU and Croatia. The results were released on 17 May to mark International Day against Homophobia.
Fortunately, LGBTs have an ally in the European Parliament. MEPs adopted their first resolution on gay rights in 1994, in which they called for member states to allow same-sex marriage. This was seven years before the Netherlands became the first country in the world to allow gay couples to wed in 2001.
The support didn't stop there. Over the years MEPS have adopted many other resolutions, including resolutions on fundamental rights and fighting homophobia in the past year. The Parliament, which marks International Day against Homophobia every year on 17 May, also considers gay rights when voting on trade agreements with countries outside the EU or when debating foreign affairs. In addition there is a parliamentary intergroup dedicated to the issue of LGBT rights.
This has helped to bring the issue to the attention of a Europe that has proved divided. In 2006 the Dutch proved the most accepting with 82% supporting homosexual marriage and the Romanians the least with just 11% . It was the same when asked whether homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children. Only 8% of Romanians agreed, against 69% of Dutch respondents.
Despite these differences, support for gay rights has tended to increase in most countries. Aside from the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Portugal and Denmark also recognise same-sex marriage, while Finland, Luxembourg and Slovenia are considering following in their footsteps. Many EU countries also offer the possibility of same-sex civil partnerships.
Let's not forget that every major social revolution, from the abolition of slavery to voting rights for women, proved controversial at the start but ended up being supported by the vast majority of the population. By keeping the issue in the public view, organisations like the European Parliament can play an important role in moving the debate forward.
Infographic copyright European Parliament