The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled in favour of Neringa Macatė-Dangvydė, author of a children’s book that involves stories about same-sex romantic relationships, who sued Lithuania after the book was withdrawn from bookstores.
The court found that Lithuania had violated an article of the European Convention on Human Rights that defines freedom of expression.
“The Court found that the measures taken against the applicant’s book were aimed at restricting children’s access to information which depicts same-sex relationships as essentially equivalent to opposite-sex relationships,” the court said in a press release.
The Strasbourg Court awarded €12,000 in non-pecuniary damages and €5,000 in legal costs for the violation.
The book Amber Heart, which was published almost a decade ago, contains stories of various groups experiencing social exclusion and discrimination: the disabled, migrants, homosexuals, Roma people.
Two of the six stories describe romantic relationships between characters of the same sex.
The collection was published by the Lithuanian Educational University (LEU) in 2013. However, a few months later, the university suspended the distribution of the book, calling it “homosexual propaganda”.
The university based its decision on a letter from the Office of the Inspector of Journalistic Ethics, which alleged that Amber Heart was harmful to children under 14. However, the letter itself was signed after the distribution of the book had been suspended.
Lithuania retains the controversial law, passed back in 2009, that describes information about same-sex romantic relationships as harmful to minors.
The university later retreated and agreed to distribute the book with a label warning about possible “negative impact” to children under 14.
In 2014, Macatė appealed to Lithuanian courts over discrimination and when they ruled against her, filed a suit with the ECHR in 2019.
The ECHR rejected the Lithuanian government’s arguments that certain passages in the book, such as those describing a princess and a shoemaker’s daughter sleeping in each other’s arms after their wedding, were sexually explicit.
Claims that the tales were intended to berate opposite-sex relations were also rejected.
“On the contrary, the tales promoted respect for and acceptance of all members of society in a fundamental aspect of their lives – committed relationships,” the report said.
“The Court therefore concludes that restricting children’s access to such information did not pursue any aim which it could recognise as legitimate,” it says.
Macatė passed away in March 2020 and her case was subsequently pursued by her mother.