Russian city backs fines for 'promoting gay life'

St Petersburg to impose £100 penalties for spreading 'homosexual propaganda'

A law which outlaws "homosexual propaganda" has been approved by parliamentarians in St Petersburg – a move that has outraged rights activists in Russia and across the world.

The bill, which passed a key second reading yesterday, now only needs to go through the formality of a third reading before becoming law.

The legislation sets fines for those who violate it of up to £100 for individuals and £10,000 for organisations. The only opponents in the city parliament were a small contingent from the liberal party, Yabloko.

"Propaganda" is defined by the bill as "enticements, positive opinions and comments that promote non-traditional sexual and family relations to minors". The MP behind it said the legislation would target "themed" clubs for teenagers, and the spreading of information about homosexuality on social networks.

The law would ban the dissemination of information "which could cause damage to the health or moral and spiritual development of minors, including by inducing them to form warped perceptions that traditional and non-traditional married relations are equally socially acceptable".

Rights groups reacted angrily, saying the bill contradicted Russian and international law. They also said it would make the lives of gay teenagers, who could be embarrassed or scared of coming out, even harder. "This is a direct path to discrimination and legitimises violence," said one gay rights organisation, Coming Out. "While claiming to be about protecting young people, the law will do quite the opposite and will push gay teenagers towards isolation and suicide."

A similar law has been passed in two other regions, including Arkhangelsk, where three gay activists were arrested last week for holding placards decrying the legislation as inhumane and immoral. They were fined 2,000 roubles (£40), as the protest itself was deemed to violate the law.

Homosexuality, which was illegal in the Soviet period, was decriminalised in 1993 but since then there has continued to be widespread discrimination against gays in Russia, spearheaded by the Russian Orthodox Church and a conservative establishment. Almost no public figures are openly gay, and the attitude of the former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, who infamously called gays "Satanic", is widespread.

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