Anti-Gay Law Stirs Fears in Russia


MOSCOW — St. Petersburg's legislature passed a law on Wednesday aimed at
eliminating what its backers called "propaganda" of homosexuality among minors,
prompting fears among gay rights groups of an impending crackdown on their
activities as other cities vowed to look into adopting similar measures.

The law, which follows similar legislation passed elsewhere recently, appears
to be a reaction to increasingly vocal efforts by gay rights groups,
particularly in St. Petersburg and Moscow, to attract attention to the issue.

Vitaly V. Milonov, the law's principal drafter and an outspoken proponent of
Russia's Orthodox Church, who has referred to gay people as "perverts," has
accused gay rights activists of waging an aggressive campaign of conversion
among Russia's children with the backing of Western governments.

"This is a declaration of Russia's moral sovereignty," Mr. Milonov said in
televised remarks shortly after Wednesday's legislative session.

Under the new law, which passed 29 to 5, "public actions directed at the
propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors"
will be punishable with fines of up to $17,000. The law defines propaganda of
homosexuality as "the targeted and uncontrolled dissemination of generally
accessible information capable of harming the health and moral and spiritual
development of minors," particularly that which could create "a distorted
impression" of "marital relations."

Igor Kochetkov, the head of the Russian L.G.B.T. Network, a rights group based
in St. Petersburg, called the premise of the law "absurd."

"You can also adopt a law against turning off the light of the sun, but no one
has the ability to do this," Mr. Kochetkov said. "Even if someone wanted to, no
amount of propaganda is going to turn a heterosexual gay."

He said he feared that the law could be used to prevent outreach efforts by
gay rights activists, who have only recently become outspoken enough to attract

"This is a law that can be used, and will be used, to conduct searches of
organizations and prevent public actions," he said. "Most importantly, it will
be used for official propaganda. Officially homosexuality will be considered
illegal, something incorrect and something that cannot be discussed with
children. It will create a negative atmosphere in society around gays and
lesbians as well as our organizations."

Open discussion of homosexuality was almost unheard of in Russia until just a
few years ago. A Soviet-era law that punished same-sex relations between men
with prison time was repealed in 1993, but the subject has long remained taboo
outside a smattering of bars and clubs in major Russian cities.

Attempts in recent years to hold gay rights rallies have been met with
contempt and outright hostility from officials and religious groups, and have
occasionally turned bloody.

But the issue has gradually begun to attract the attention of the Russian news
media, including government-controlled television, which has occasionally given
a platform to advocates of equal rights for gay people.

As often happens, passage of the new law has helped raise to the level of
national discussion the topic it was meant to suppress. The legislation set off
a media frenzy when introduced late last year, and has been the subject of
boisterous debates on television.

In one debate on a popular political talk show, the law's opponents shouted
down Mr. Milonov after he accused gay rights groups of "attacking" children and
"trying to do them sexual harm." At one point, the host donned a rainbow flag
like a cape, taunting another legislator from St. Petersburg who suggested
banning such flags because of their association with gay rights.

International human rights groups and Western governments had urged
legislators not to pass the law, and a few opposition groups in Russia have
condemned it.

"I consider this law a provocation intended to divide society over a question
that could have been used to teach people understanding," Aleksandr Korbinsky,
an opposition member of St. Petersburg's Parliament who voted against the
measure, said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "We need to help them become full-fledged
members of society, not make them feel like second-class citizens."

Supporters of the new measure insist there is broad support in Russian society
for laws meant to protect what they say are Russia's traditional values. In a
July 2010 survey by the Levada Center, a polling agency based in Moscow, 84
percent of the 1,600 adults surveyed said they opposed granting same-sex
couples the right to marry. The poll showed that 45 percent said gay men and
lesbians should enjoy the same rights as all other Russians, 41 percent said
they should not, and 15 percent were undecided. Eighteen percent said
homosexuals should be isolated from society. The poll had a margin of sampling
error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The new law is expected to face no opposition from St. Petersburg's governor,
who must sign it before it can take effect.

Legislatures in Arkhangelsk and Ryazan have passed similar laws, and others
have said they would follow suit. Valentina I. Matviyenko, the chairwoman of
Russia's upper house of Parliament and a former governor of St. Petersburg, has
suggested that the measure could be enacted on a federal level.

Glenn Kates contributed reporting.


Pubblicato da Lorenzo Bernini