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Article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code

In 1995, Romania applied for EU membership. Rising international pressure for Romania to respect the human rights of its sexual minorities led to the amendment of the first paragraph of Article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code (Art. 200 P.C.), in 1996. Then, only sexual activity between two individuals of the same sex done in public or “creating a public scandal” was punishable by 1-5 years of prison. Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu (2000) explain that the notion of “public scandal” was an ambiguous formulation that enabled abusive interpretation of the law, therefore perpetuating the institutionalized criminalization of homosexuality. Simply witnessing or knowing of a homosexual relation could be construed as a “public scandal” under the law. The freedoms of expression and of association of homosexuals were thus compromised as their meeting places, their interactions, and their publications were susceptible to prosecution.

"First Romanian Gay Group Formed in Bucharest" in San Francisco Sentinel, April 9, 1992

Two Colliding Discourses: The Romanian Orthodox Church Against EU Human Rights

In the context of the nineties, however, two discourses concerning Romanian post-socialist national identity collided: the first, informed by the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC), which had sufficient power to influence bureaucratic policies; and the second, by secular groups that supported the EU minority rights and challenged the Church’s political prominence. After the fall of Communism, the ROC enjoyed greater freedom and increased its presence in schools, on the radio and on television, which enabled it to portray itself in a positive light and to successfully appeal to the masses. In 2000, greater public appeal for the abrogation of Art. 200 P.C. and growing pressure from the EU led the Holy Synod of the ROC to write a letter to the Romanian Parliament in which it declared: “The ROC assumed its responsible openness to support the process of European integration, but it disagrees with decisions that lead to moral and spiritual degradation of Romanian society.” Talking in the name of the people and asserting phrases such as “the people desire,” “the people demand,” and “people ask,” with no mention of sexual minorities, the ROC made it clear who was dictating the moral norm and that any “deviancy” was expected to adapt to the hetenormative ideal of the Romanian citizen.

"The appeal of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church to the Senators and Deputies of the Romanian Parliament"
Article written by Teoctist, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Observatorul Cultural, a weekly magazine for culture, 26 October- 2 November 2000.

M. Cetiner.jpeg

Mariana Cetiner was the last person arrested and imprisoned under Art. 200 P.C. in 1996. She was sentenced for three years for "attempting to seduce a woman".

The last person arrested and imprisoned under Art. 200 P.C. was Mariana Cetiner, a former Romanian handball player who requested political asylum in Germany, while in prison. She was accused of “inciting and encouraging” a female roommate to engage in sexual intercourse with her. She was arrested in 1996 and condemned for three years of prison, where she was repeatedly harassed and raped, as she testifies on Romanian television two decades after her arrest. She describes the “bestiality, the inhumanity with which they beat [her] up without any right to do so.” The four years she spent in prison, she was in isolation because she was a lesbian. She attests to the horrors she endured: “Torment, terror, inhumanity, bestiality, people are beasts, the police are beasts... to be tied to the radiator, for them to beat you and rape you.” Susan Hawthorne (2005) explains how equating female same-sex relations to a psychiatric issue is a common feature of criminality not only in the region, and that, for many, a long-term forced institutionalization was how they ended their life.

Art. 200 P.C. legitimized feelings of disgust and fear towards homosexuality, which exacerbated their social alienation. The ROC, wielding great political influence and credibility, further consolidated the homophobic and heteronormative discourse in Romania. The fact that LGTBQ+ individuals had very few spaces in which to gather and foster a collective identity or to simply feel “normal,” hindered their living conditions and mental health which in turn accentuated their sense of loneliness.


Context in the Nineties
Article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code