Banning bigotry toward sexual minorities is no small event in socially conservative Georgia, which, for the past few days, has experienced a maelstrom of emotions over an anti-discrimination bill. On May 2, the legislation passed parliament without a single vote against it. But the debate, set against the backdrop of a struggle between Europe and Russia for influence, looks likely to rage on.
The country's two most influential men – billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II – threw their support for and against the bill, respectively.
A recently released poll of 3,942 Georgians shows, though, that minority rights are not a pressing concern nationwide. More people are troubled about making ends meet. Out of those minorities named in the survey (commissioned by the National Democratic Institute), rights protection for sexual minorities ranked dead last as a priority.
So, why pass the bill now? Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili sees it as part and parcel of Georgia's integration with the European Union; a goal desired by 65 percent of those surveyed in the NDI poll.
The Patriarchy also has expressed its support for Georgia’s EU integration, but despite many assurances to the contrary, many prelates remain suspicious that, by introducing legal protection for the LGBT community, Brussels will eventually trick Georgia into adopting gay marriage.
Part of the problem with the bill was that very few people seem actually to have read it. The document does not only address sexual minorities, but conservative groups made sure to create a sense that, in the wake of such legal initiatives, Georgian men will switch their chokha – a traditional wool coat – for a wedding dress.
To underline that concern, one Georgian rapper uploaded a music video in which he asserts that “a real man will never be called a wife.”
Ultimately, it seems that what made all the difference was word from Ivanishvili, widely seen as still running the country. (By 62 percent of those surveyed in the NDI poll.) Some members of the ruling Georgian-Dream coalition, founded by Ivanishvili, originally opposed the bill, but changed their minds after a chat with the billionaire.
Now, nobody seems to be quite happy with the amended bill -- neither the human rights groups that promoted it, nor the clerics who still insist that attempts to impose unwanted gay marriages on Georgia are underway.