Twenty gay activists were detained by police in Moscow today for a “kissing protest”, as the Russian parliament gave preliminary approval to a controversial bill that would outlaw “homosexual propaganda”.
The protesters were first assaulted with rotten eggs by Orthodox Christian activists and skinheads, and then dragged away by police, who confirmed that 20 people had been detained.
The Duma passed the bill in the first of three readings by 388 votes to one, and applause rippled through the chamber. “We live in Russia, not Sodom and Gomorrah,” United Russia deputy Dmitry Sablin said before the vote. “Russia is a thousands-years-old country founded on its own traditional values – the protection of which is dearer to me than even oil and gas.”
The law targets those who promote homosexuality to children, and is designed to bolster family values, according to the MPs who proposed it.
Similar legislation has been passed in several Russian regions over the past two years, including the city of St Petersburg, and now the bill looks set to take hold nationwide. The law envisages fines of up to 5,000 roubles (£100) for individuals, 50,000 (£1,000) for public officials and 500,000 roubles (£10,000) for organisations who are found to be engaging in gay propaganda.
The law will forbid “holding visual events with the participation of homosexuals in places accessible to children”, as well as “approval of homosexual links on television or radio during times when children could be watching”.
In St Petersburg, an MP even brought a lawsuit against the pop star Madonna last year, claiming that her concert in the city, during which she spoke out against the law, constituted homosexual propaganda. A court threw out the claim.
Even without the law, tolerance towards gay rights in Russia is minimal, with Moscow and other cities repeatedly banning gay parades, and public opinion broadly supportive of the law. Gay activists who have tried to hold parades or protests in the past have been arrested by the police and assaulted by skinheads and Russian Orthodox hardliners. The former mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, infamously referred to gay parades as “Satanic”, and under his successor Sergei Sobyanin little has changed.
In regions where the law has already taken hold, gay rights activists have complained that vague wording means services like counselling for gay teenagers are now potentially illegal.
In the northern city of Arkhangelsk, a medical clinic that worked to provide sexual health checkups for young gay men cancelled the project, again fearing retribution from authorities.
“It’s just awful,” said Dmitry, a 27-year-old Muscovite who did not want to use his full name. “Everywhere in the world life is becoming better for gays and here it’s getting harder. It was hard to tell my family, I hide it from my employer, and now they are trying to make things even worse with this stupid law.”
MPs said that the law would need to be amended before it comes for a second reading in spring, to tighten up the definition of what is meant by the words “homosexual” and “propaganda”.