A Europe-wide phenomenon: Harnessing family values to oppose gay rights

In recent years, several movements have arisen in Europe fighting equal rights for sexual minorities by advocating the ideal of the traditional nuclear family.

Helsinki’s Kansalaistori erupted in cheers in November 2014 when the Parliament accepted the citizens’ initiative for marriage equality. The law took effect in March this year. 

Changes have been advocated in legislation concerning paternity and maternity to provide equal rights to same-sex families and their children. Meanwhile, there are movements campaigning for amendments to Finnish legislation regarding the rights of transgender individuals. Currently, individuals wishing to change their legal gender status must acquire a psychiatrist’s statement and provide proof of sterility.

But not everyone supports these developments. In early 2015, new slogans started showing up on Finnish streets and online, boosted by the Aito avioliitto (“Real marriage”) organisation: “A real marriage is between a man and a woman”; “Children deserve a father and a mother”.

Many similarities between European anti-gay movements

Similar developments have been apparent all over Europe over the past few years, says researcher Katja Kahlina. European organisations campaigning against equal rights for sexual minorities and promoting the traditional nuclear family have many similarities.

The rhetoric circles around protecting the nuclear family.

Their logos typically feature the silhouettes of a man and a woman, often accompanied by two children – preferably a girl and a boy. The colours are on the pink and blue spectrum. The rhetoric circles around protecting the nuclear family.

The first stirrings of the anti-gay movement were seen in France in 2012, where La Manif pour tous, “The Protest for All”, brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets. The organisation emphasised that it was not homophobic, but an advocate for the nuclear family.

Finland’s Aito avioliitto has openly stated that they cooperate with their French counterpart.

Similar event, though on a smaller scale, took place in Germany with the Demo für Alle in Stuttgart, while the referendums that seek to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman were initiated in Slovenia, Croatia, and Slovakia. The movement has gained traction both in countries where the rights of sexual minorities have been improved through legislation and in ones where no such developments have taken place.

Finland’s Aito avioliitto has openly stated that they cooperate with their French counterpart. They are also connected to movements in the United States and Russia. Katja Kahlina believes that Russia is a significant source of funding for the anti-gay movements in many European countries. The organisations gather every year in World Congress of Family events, the latest of which was organised in Budapest in May 2017.

LGBTIQ themes spark movements

Katja Kahlina is working at the University of Helsinki under a two-year grant from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow. She decided on Helsinki as it is the home of Professor Tuija Pulkkinen’s research group. 

Kahlina hails from Croatia, and she has completed her doctorate on gender studies at the Central European University in Budapest. In the future, she would like to study the relationships between LGBTIQ issues and democracy in more depth. The LGBTIQ acronym refers to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer.

Katja Kahlina comments:  “Issues surrounding sexuality and gender identity have become central topics in the popular movements of democratic states.”

Watch all the talks in Tiedekulma in the video below (partly in Finnish and English). Kahlina's talk begins at approximately 22:00 minutes.