Russian lawmakers approved a bill that would make the law of the land a St. Petersburg anti-gay act Madonna flouted in President Vladimir Putin’s hometown.
Lawmakers in the 450-seat lower house of parliament, or State Duma, approved in the first of three required readings a ban on “homosexual propaganda” among minors. The legislation is already in force in 12 of the country’s 83 regions.
“This law reminds us of the Stalin and fascist era, when groups of people were called socially unequal,” Igor Kochetkov, head of the Russian LGBT Net movement, said by phone from St. Petersburg before the vote. Homosexuality was illegal in the Soviet Union and decriminalized in Russia in 1993.
Putin, who faced unprecedented protests last year, has campaigned with “traditional values” before a March election returned him the presidency. The Duma vote which Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said is “not the Kremlin’s topic,” took place after the Russian leader’s approval rating fell to the lowest since 2000.
Sixty-two percent of Russians approve of Putin’s performance, the lowest since June 2000, according to a Jan. 18-21 poll of 1,596 people, the Moscow-based polling company Levada Center said yesterday. That’s down from 72 percent two years ago, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
About two-thirds of Russians consider homosexuality a “disease” or a “bad habit,” Levada said in July, citing a poll of 1,601 residents.
People found guilty of creating “false perceptions of the social equality of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations” face fines of as much as 500,000 rubles ($16,600), according to draft passed today by a vote of 388-1, with 1 abstaining. A date for the second reading, which can include amendments, hasn’t been set yet.
A parliamentary committee recommended the legislation with amendments, Just Russia lawmaker Elena Mizulina said, asking for clarification on the use of terms such as “homosexualism” and “propaganda.” Promoting “homosexual propaganda among minors limits children’s right to free development,” she said.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev criticized the initiative last month, saying in a television interview that “not all the relations between people are subject to regulation.” Amnesty International said the law would be open for misuse because it lacks a detailed description of what propaganda is.
Madonna called the St. Petersburg law a “ridiculous atrocity” before her concert there last August. “I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed,” the singer said March 20 by e-mail.
Madonna did perform and was sued for 333 million rubles less than two weeks later by nine local residents who accused her of “violating cultural traditions and promoting homosexuality.” She won the case Nov. 22.
“Technically, the law itself is not dangerous at all, it just creates scandals,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser who heads the Moscow-based Effective Policy Foundation. “Gays never enjoyed freedoms here and the law isn’t actually making it any harder for them.”
U.S. President Barack Obama issued an endorsement of gay marriage during his inaugural address on Jan. 21, likening same-sex rights to the struggles of blacks and women. It was the first time a president mentioned gay rights in an inaugural speech.
The U.S. is quitting a working group on civil society with Russia after the Kremlin increased limitations for non-government organizations’ activities, the Interfax news service reported today, citing Thomas O. Melia, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state who follows human-rights issues in Europe, Russia and the Middle East.
Pavlovsky likened the gay initiative to the law Russia passed last month banning U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children. That was a retaliatory measure for U.S. sanctions on Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of an imprisoned lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who had alleged tax fraud by Interior Ministry officials.
“Like the adoption ban for U.S. citizens, this initiative looks like another Kremlin attempt to assess the mood in Russia in order to find a set of ideas that the masses can unite around,” Pavlovsky said.