Serbian lawmakers pass anti-discrimination law

Belgrade, Serbia - Serbian lawmakers narrowly gave final approval Thursday to an anti-discrimination law that is part of pro-Western reforms but was strongly opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church and other conservatives.

Parliament passed the bill with a slim majority of 127 votes in favor to 59 against — one more vote than was needed for passage in the 250-member parliament. The remaining deputies did not attend.

The law bans any kind of discrimination, whether based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender or other factors.

The legislation was part of reforms to align the nation with European Union policies and was crucial if Serbian citizens were to gain the right to travel without visas to the 27 EU member nations.

But its adoption triggered public turmoil in Serbia, which is predominantly conservative.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, supported by other religious groups, had requested changes to the articles on gay rights and religious freedoms. It has argued the law could be open to misinterpretation and misuse. Other critics have said it runs counter to Serbian tradition.

The government initially withdrew the law to review the church's remarks, but that angered liberals. In the end, the government made no major changes.

Apart from banning discrimination, the law also provides for a special state representative to monitor possible discrimination, and outlines punitive measures.

The parliamentary vote came after a lengthy debate pitting the pro-Western lawmakers against the nationalists and conservatives.

Serbia launched pro-Western reforms after the ouster in 2000 of former autocrat Slobodan Milosevic.