WARSAW (Reuters) – A top Polish appeals court ruled on Tuesday that so-called “LGBT-free zones” must be scrapped in four municipalities, a verdict welcomed by activists as a victory for human rights and democracy.
Numerous local authorities in Poland passed resolutions in 2019 declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology”, part of a conflict in the predominantly Catholic country between liberals and religious conservatives, who see the struggle for gay rights as a threat to traditional values.
“LGBT-free zones” seek to ban what local authorities see as the promotion of homosexuality and other minority sexual identities, especially in schools.
These moves set Poland on a collision course with the European Commission, which said the zones may violate EU law regarding non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
After a legal challenge from Poland’s Human Rights Ombudsman, lower courts ruled that nine such resolutions must be scrapped.
The public prosecutor’s office, the ultra-conservative think-tank Ordo Iuris and the municipalities involved then appealed against these verdicts. In the first four cases, the appeals were dismissed on Tuesday.
“Today’s decision… is a great victory for democracy, human rights and respect for people,” Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia wrote in a social media post.
Cabinet Minister Michal Wojcik, a member of the conservative United Poland party, criticised the ruling.
“If councillors decide that they want to support our traditions and identity, it is their sovereign right. Nobody should limit this,” he told Reuters in a text message.
The ruling comes as the issue of “LGBT-free zones” looks set to put EU funding for Polish municipalities involved at risk again
Last Friday the Campaign against Homophobia said the EU Commission had introduced a clause in its Partnership Agreement with Poland that would prevent municipalities with “LGBT-free zones” receiving funds from the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget.
An EU source confirmed that municipalities which adopt policies judged by the bloc to be discriminatory would not receive funding for infrastructure, the environment and some other areas.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Editing by Gareth Jones)