Hungarian rainbow families: raising children in a hostile political context


The term 'rainbow families' commonly refers to LGBTIQ+ parents and their children. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Government, in power since 2010, has systematically curtailed LGBTIQ+ rights, as has been discussed in many articles published on our platform. Hundreds of such parents have adopted children with their same-sex spouses or partners, have given birth to children themselves or have availed themselves of surrogates to have their own genetically-related offspring. This article offers a glimpse into the lives of two such families in Hungary.

image of a pregnant belly in a blue dress, with a rainbow belt

Zita, 44, a psychotherapist and Dóri, 36, a nurse and psychology student, live together in a little village in the countryside, a 50-minute ride from Budapest, whereas András, 37, an IT support consultant, and Márton, 36, a lawyer, live together in the capital in a calm area with a garden. Both couples’ children are genetically related to them: Zita and Dóri’s sons were born via artificial insemination only a few weeks apart in the spring of 2021, while András and Márton’s children were born three months apart in autumn and winter 2021 via Canadian surrogate mothers and egg donation. The latter have been together for 10 years and had already been planning to have babies for several years, whereas the former couple, together for eight years, had originally considered adoption and then changed their minds due to the political environment. Their anxieties proved well-founded.

The story of the gay couple Márton Pál and Ádám Hanol, who decided to go public with their family plans, quickly became known to Hungary’s other rainbow families. Their second adoption was kept pending for nine months during 2022, despite both the biological mother having consented and the child welfare authority having originally approved it,  revealing how the power of the state can render adoption for same-sex couples extremely difficult, if not impossible.

LGBTIQ+ adoption rights in Hungary

Adoption was already challenging for same-sex couples in Hungary due to a 2009 law prohibiting it, but as single persons they could still adopt children if the child welfare authority approved of them as prospective parents. An amendment to the law at the end of 2020 made it virtually impossible for LGBTIQ+ people to adopt by declaring that only married couples are eligible to do so; any single person’s request to adopt requires special ministerial permission. Since same-sex marriage is not allowed in Hungary,  this amendment clearly bars gay or lesbian couples from adopting.

Parallel to this, the Ninth Amendment to the country’s Constitution came into force in December 2020 and reinforced the Government’s gender narrative by stating that “Hungary shall protect the right of children to a self-identity corresponding to their sex at birth”. The “family” is defined as “the union of one man and one woman” in which “the mother shall be a woman and the father shall be a man”.

The gender war – recalling the dark days of history

In late 2020, when both Zita and Dóri were pregnant and when András and Márton were in the midst of the surrogacy process, the children’s fairy tale book Meseország mindenkié (A Fairytale for Everyone) was published by Hungary’s Labrisz Lesbian Association, a small grassroots NGO. The book portrayed minorities, including LGBTQ heroes.  It was publicly torn to pieces and then shredded by Dóra Dúró, the vice-chair of the far-right “Our Homeland” Movement, reminiscent of an earlier, sombre period of Hungary’s history.

In April 2023, Parliament discussed a provision to a whistle-blower bill which stipulated that  citizens should be allowed to anonymously report those who contest the “constitutionally recognized role of marriage and the family” to the authorities, i.e., to inform on LGBTIQ+ parents. The gender war diverted headlines away from the original aim of the bill, which was less flattering to the Government. The bill was meant to  respond to the EU directive requiring Hungary to adequately tackle existing corruption risks. The ‘anti-LGBTIQ+’ stipulation of the bill was finally removed in May.

Positive experiences and coping strategies

Both of these couples are living with the question of whether the day might arrive when they might prefer to emigrate, and both are preparing for that. András says that in order to stay sane in this political environment, “We live in a bubble that's not really permeated by it. Obviously we hear, feel and know what's going on in the outside world, but we are surrounded by open-minded and supportive people in our group of friends, at our workplaces and even at the crèche.”

When András announced he was going on paternity leave,  the HR director at the company where he works responded that it was great, they were very happy for him, and everything was going to be taken care of. By the end of his leave, András will have stayed at home for two years and Márton has managed to do so for the first year of his parental leave too, a precious time the whole family has cherished.

As for Zita and Dóri, their example has also encouraged other rainbow couples to dare to have their own children. The couple has been apprehensive of what lies in store for their children once they get into a peer community, though, especially since the education system is nearing collapse as teacher shortages worsen and working conditions are not improving despite ongoing teachers’ protests. Their sons are about to start kindergarten in the autumn.

Zita says: “The surreal thing is that so far the reactions from those  around us – doctors, educational staff – have been nothing but positive. It was as if we weren’t even living in Hungary. I don’t think that will always be the case, though.” Dóri adds: “Our children will probably learn much more about how the people in our village actually think about us than we do.”

Violation of LGBTIQ+ rights – legal action from the EU

The European Commission started legal action against Hungary in 2021 and in 2022 referred it to the Court of Justice of the EU over LGBTIQ+ people’s rights being violated. The legal action was triggered by the so-called “child protection law” passed in 2021 which conflates paedophilia and homosexuality, bans the ‘promotion and portrayal of homosexuality’ and of gender diversity to under-18s in sex education, films or advertisements, and requires a disclaimer on any children's book with LGBTIQ+ content.

The law also bans the retailing of any book or media depicting LGBTIQ+ themes within 200 meters of any school or church, creating an impossible situation in small towns. An NGO dedicated to rainbow families, Szivárványcsaládokért Alapítvány, has deplored on Facebook that “children's storybooks about rainbow families can now only be sold in sealed packaging (…) and cannot even be displayed in bookshops.” The transparent packaging allows for the cover of the books to be visible, but they cannot be opened before purchase.

The popular bookshop chain Líra Könyv was recently fined the equivalent of EUR 31,250 for not putting the graphic novel Heartstopper in sealed packaging and for placing it in the section on children’s and young adult literature. The book is based on Alice Oseman’s web comic that follows two teenage boys, Nick and Charlie, as they meet at a British grammar school, become friends and fall in love. 

The same bookshop chain had already been fined two years ago for “failure to warn its customers of content deviating from the norm” when selling the children’s book What a Family!, featuring children with either two mums or two dads.

Ma’am, you’re pregnant yourself! How could you accompany someone else in labour?

Pregnancy was an emotional rollercoaster for Zita and Dóri. Despite their heartfelt wish to have babies, they couldn’t avoid an initial period of fear of how two pregnant women alone in the countryside would manage. They agreed that just one of them could feel like a mess at a time and the other one had to stay well. They learned how to refurbish the floors of their house themselves, carried heavy bags and quarrelled with each other about doing so. Their friends’ and families’ help came in handy, especially during the last four months of their pregnancies, when they moved to the capital in case a medical emergency were to arise.

Zita gave birth first. Dóri, more than eight-months pregnant herself, was making her way up the hospital stairs to be with her. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only eligible people were allowed to access the delivery ward. The receptionist stopped her, asking “Where are you going, ma’am?” “To accompany a person in labour,” Dóri responded. “But you’re pregnant yourself!” the puzzled receptionist exclaimed.

Other such confusions happen, such as medical staff asking during regular checkups whether the two boys, who have both of their mothers’ surnames, are twins, but Dóri and Zita find these cases rather amusing and take them gracefully: “We’ve never had any negative experience. What the Government is trying to get at, i.e., that you should hate gays, boo at their families and not let them have kids, hasn’t worked.”

Hi, how’s the weather where you are? Will you carry my baby?

András and Márton had their babies through Men Having Babies, an international nonprofit organisation dedicated to providing gay men with educational and financial support to achieve parenthood through surrogacy. They chose Canadian surrogate mothers. Canadian law permits altruistic surrogacy only, i.e., these women were not paid to bear somebody else’s babies. Even so, for András and Márton the whole process of having two babies cost them EUR 160,000 EUR, (the cost of procuring eggs, travel for medical procedures, three coordinating agencies managing the search for egg donors and surrogate mothers, and reimbursement of the surrogate mothers for any costs they incurred, e.g. loss of salary due to pregnancy, clothing costs and babysitter costs for the other children of the surrogate mothers), an amount equivalent to the price of a 40-50m2 apartment in a central Budapest district.

The screening process included a series of psychological tests and conversations about legal issues around the child which many straight couples do not have to go through before getting pregnant. The couple also had to identify in a contract who would raise their babies if anything happened to them during the surrogacy process.

The first meeting with a potential surrogate mother was remarkable, as they recall. “You can imagine the Skype call with a random woman several thousand kilometres away from you. You go from ‘Hi, how’s the weather?’ straight to ‘And will you carry my child?’ It’s a totally impossible conversation.” The first match worked out in both cases. During the pregnancies, the couple  stayed in touch with the surrogate mothers by sharing videos and photos to show each other their everyday lives and create a relationship of trust. “These are fantastic women and we would do anything for them, we are indebted to them for a lifetime. Without them we would not have our children,” they say.

The boys will learn about their birth stories little by little, age-appropriately.

Change agents – dispelling the fear of the unknown

Dóri and Zita have a peaceful garden. They enjoy hiking in the countryside with their children and taking care of their plants and animals. That is what keeps them going. Dóri has already lived abroad before. Whenever she has doubts about staying in Hungary, she has long conversations with Zita, who reminds her that they are remaining in Hungary for a reason: “Those who could have brought about change have moved abroad.”

Zita would like to be involved in training psychologists about the field of LGBTIQ+ issues. “Many therapists graduate from their training without ever having met a gay person. The first one they meet may be a client, and then they will either handle it well, or less well.” Both women believe it is important that others are exposed to them in order to dispel their fear of the unknown and to show others that they share the same thoughts, fears, daily chores and challenges as others do when it comes to parenting. Reacting to the headlines in the Government-loyal media outlets against the allegedly “aggressive international LGBTIQ+ lobby that aims to change children’s genders”, Zita turns to sarcasm: “We don't want to change the gender of anybody else’s children. We’re not picking up scalpels and saying, ‘Let's quickly turn Pistike into Marika’. We are as busy with our own lives as straight people are.”

Márton is more of an activist who can give actual legal advice to people through his workplace, a human rights NGO, even though his field of expertise does not concern LGBTIQ+ issues. He believes having a child as a gay couple inevitably involves a certain “missionary” mindset, because they have to explain quite frequently how it is that they are a family. András prefers staying rather private and sees his role as simply living his daily life. At the playground, people often ask him if their boys are twins. He'll say no, they’re three months apart and have two fathers. This leads to reactions of surprise; some people ask further questions, others don't. “Personally, I've never experienced any kind of rejection. I'm happy to include whoever is interested to show them that it's pretty much the same life as anybody else's. Hate is often abstract,” he says.

András and Márton consider themselves a regular bourgeois family. Before the kids were born, they used to have season tickets to the opera, to Budapest Festival Orchestra concerts and to the theatre, and they would cook together and then watch Netflix at night. “Quite a boring lifestyle, apart from the two of us being guys, anyway.”

Concerning the future, the men are pretty sure that by the time their children are of voting age, Fidesz will be no more. Márton remains cautiously optimistic, not knowing what might come once the Fidesz era is over, whereas András is more confident: “Obviously we will protect them from all these evil influences at the beginning, as far as we can, and then I think that all of this will fade away and in the end Hungary will join the West rather than the East.”