Hungary is gearing up for a political battle with LGBTQ+ rights at the forefront

Politics and sport are becoming a more powerful combination, and nowhere is this more evident than in Viktor Orbán's Hungary, where Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel made a stance for LGBTQ+ rights this weekend.

The British and German duo spoke out against Orbán's so-called "child protection law," an anti-pedophilia bill that was later amended to prohibit the showing of "any content portraying or promoting sex reassignment or homosexuality" to under-18s, while in Hungary to compete in the Grand Prix event they have dominated for the past decade.

In an Instagram post on Thursday, Hamilton called the referendum "unacceptable, cowardly, and misguiding [sic]." “I find it embarrassing for a country that is in the European Union to have to vote or have certain legislation like this,” Vettel, who was wearing a ‘Same Love' rainbow shirt as the Hungarian national song played, said. Many F1 pit crew members donned rainbow wristbands to demonstrate support for LGBTQ people.

The boos that accompanied Hamilton's post-race interview weren't just about sports: Hungarians are more supportive of his stance on LGBTQ+ issues. According to an Ipsos study conducted in April and May, 59 percent of Hungarians believe homosexual and straight couples should have the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples, up from only 42 percent in 2013.

With a general election coming up in April, Orbán's decision to double down and conduct a referendum on the child protection bill is a dangerous gamble both at home and internationally. President of the European Commission (EC) Ursula Von der Leyen called the bill "shameful," and the EC has launched an infringement case against Hungary for the first time, using Article 2 of the EU Treaty.

Orbán's ruling Fidesz party's high-profile MPs were quick to reply to Hamilton's remarks: Judit Varga, Hungary's justice minister, advised Hamilton to stick to driving and expressed disappointment that he had "entered the army of foreign false news producers by assaulting our child protection law." “Lewis Hamilton has seven world titles, a knighthood, a rainbow opinion, but no child,” Tamás Deutsch, an MEP and founder member of Fidesz, tweeted. That is all there is to it.”

Following the 1956 Uprising against the Soviets, communist Hungary began to liberalize. While Matyás Rákosi, Hungary's harsh postwar leader, had warned that "whoever is not with us is against us," János Kádar, who came to power after the revolution was defeated, inverted this to "Whoever is not against us is with us" in 1961. Hungary decriminalized homosexuality for people above the age of 20 in the same year. This was decreased to 18 in 1978, but it would take until 2002 to catch up to Hungary's 14-year-old age of consent for heterosexuals.

During Kádar's era of "goulash communism," homosexuality was generally forbidden. “People felt different but didn't know what to call it,” said dám András Kanicsár, a Hungarian journalist and LGBTQ+ campaigner. “Sometimes they had to take out an encyclopedia, where they came across the phrase ‘homosexual,' and realized... there are other individuals out there like me.”

Hungarian authorities will appoint sex educators in schools under the new rule, and sellers of children's publications with LGBTQ+ characters may face fines.