On July 29, 2016, Kyrgyzstan’s speaker of parliament along, with the leaders of all but one parliamentary party, introduced a bill calling for a referendum on the country’s 2010 constitution.
In the past two years, the possibility of introducing changes to the constitution has frequently been floated in the small Central Asian republic. The country’s current constitution was hastily approved in a referendum that followed the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010 and the outbreak of violence in Kyrgyzstan’s south from May to June of the same year.
The referendum covers a long list of sweeping amendments that, if passed, would restrict parliamentary powers, erode judicial independence, and strengthen the executive. While these aspects of the referendum have been scrutinized in the media, less attention has been paid to how the proposed amendments would impact Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT community.
These include alterations to Article 36 of the current constitution, which declares that ‘persons who have reached the age of consent have the right to marry and start a family.’ Under the proposed amendments, the article would be changed to read as follows: ‘A family is created upon the voluntary union of a man and a woman who have reached the age of consent and have entered into marriage.’
This alteration would obviously discriminate against LGBT individuals, while also rewarding self-styled nationalists and patriots whose attacks on the LGBT community have increased in recents years. In March 2014, these right-wing activists achieved a great victory, when a draft law, closely modeled on legislation approved in Russia the previous year, was introduced in the Kyrgyz parliament to ban so-called ‘gay propaganda.’ Prior to this development, Kyrgyzstan had a laissez faire attitude toward its LGBT community.
When I interviewed Amir – an activist with LGBT rights organization Kyrgyz Indigo – in March 2016 for The Diplomat, he described the increase in anti-LGBT activism in Kyrgyzstan:
in the past two years we have seen a real escalation of violence against members of the LGBT community, and this trend started with the introduction of [the March 2014] homophobic bill. Many people who attack us justify their behavior with the fact that this bill allows them to punish and harm the LGBT community.
In line with this surge in nationalistic, anti-LGBT rhetoric, the proposed changes would expand Article 1 of the constitution to define the ‘highest values’ of the Kyrgyz Republic, including ‘morality, family, childhood, fatherhood, motherhood,’ as well as ‘a combination of tradition and progress.’ Proposed amendments to Article 16 would allow for ‘special measures established by law and designed to secure the provision of [these values].’
If passed, Kyrgyzstan’s proposed constitutional changes would reinforce the despicable trend toward repressing LGBT individuals, by failing to recognize, enforce, and protect this community’s rights.