The European Court of Human Rights has found that requiring a warning label on a children’s book because it includes LGBTI-inclusive fairy tales breaches the right to freedom of expression.
Gintarin irdis (Amber Heart), a novel written by the late lesbian author Neringa Dangvyde Macate, was published in 2013 by the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences with funding from the Ministry of Culture.
Two LGBTI-inclusive fairy tales are featured in Gintarin irdis (Amber Heart), a children’s book. Photo: Mambaonline
It features adaptations of six traditional fairytales for children aged nine to ten that feature characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds or with intellectual disability.
The book addresses stigmatization, bullying, divorced families, and emigration, and two of the six fairy tales feature relationships and marriages between individuals of the same gender.
After its publication, the university and the Ministry of Culture received complaints that the book “sought to instill in children the notion that marriage between people of the same sex was acceptable” and “encouraged perversions.”
The issue was brought to the Inspectorate of Journalistic Ethics by the ministry. It determined that the book violated the country’s “Protection of Minors from Negative Effects of Public Information” law, which states that information that “expresses contempt for family values” or “encourages a different concept of marriage and family formation” has a negative impact on minors.
The inspectorate advised that the book be labeled with a warning that it may be hazardous to youngsters younger than 14 years old.
The university removed the book from distribution and reprinted it with the specified warning label one year later.
The European Court agreed with the author’s advocacy for diversity and equality.
The Lithuanian judges decided that the book’s LGBTI-inclusive fairy tales could cause harm to youngsters.
The author, who died in 2020, filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in 2019.
This case also communicates the message that all families are equal, which is an essential one.
The court found on Tuesday that the university’s measures violated the author’s right to free speech and were an unjustified attempt to restrict children’s access to information depicting same-sex partnerships as similar to different-sex couples.
It dismissed claims that certain portions in the book depicting a princess and a shoemaker’s daughter lying in each other’s arms after their wedding were sexually explicit.
The justices were also unconvinced by the contention of the Lithuanian government that the book favored same-sex families over others.
The court stated that the fairy tales pushed for respect and acceptance of all members of society in a key component of their existence, namely a committed relationship.
Therefore, the court ruled that the actions taken against the book “had not pursued any legitimate objectives…”
ILGA-Head Europe’s of Litigation, Arpi Avetisyan, praised the decision, stating, “The court’s message is clear: protection of children cannot be used as an excuse for censoring information about LGBTI rights, both on the part of authors promoting diversity and equality, and for children to learn about acceptance of all members of society on an equal footing.”
Avetisyan remarked, “This case also conveys another crucial message: that all families are equal.” According to the [European] Convention, promoting one type of family at the expense of another is never permissible.”
The court ordered Lithuania to pay the author’s mother 17,000 Euros to compensate damages and legal fees.