(Reuters/Aljazeera/WebProNews) – Gay pride is a dangerous thing to publicize in many parts of the world. Now those who want to do so in Russia will face heavy fines. A bill that stigmatizes gay people and bans giving children any information about homosexuality won overwhelming approval Tuesday in Russia’s lower house of parliament.
Controversial bills impose jail terms for promoting homosexual “propaganda” and for offending religious believers. If put into effect, the law would ban groups from handing out LGBT information and holding gay pride rallies.
Both President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church have come out in favor of the law. They both blame homosexuals for Russia’s declining birth rate, a degradation of values, and a general resistance towards authority.
Russia’s lower house passed the law on Tuesday banning gay “propaganda”, a measure that human rights groups say has already fuelled attacks on homosexuals as President Vladimir Putin pursues an increasingly conservative social agenda. Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, gay activists staged a kissing protest outside parliament but were outnumbered by several hundred supporters of the bill, some carrying religious icons.
The law bans the spreading of “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” to minors and sets heavy fines for violations. It passed with 436 votes in the 450-seat lower house, the Duma. None voting against, and only one – Ilya Ponomaryov – abstained from the vote.
“Traditional sexual relations are relations between a man and a woman, which … are a condition for the preservation and development of the multi-ethnic Russian people,” lawmaker Yelena Mizulina told the chamber.
“It is precisely these relations that need special protection by the state,” she said.
Critics say the bill – a nationwide version of laws already in place in several cities including Putin’s hometown of St Petersburg – would in effect ban all gay rights rallies and could be used to prosecute anyone voicing support for homosexuals.
“There is already enough pressure and violence against gays, and with this law it will only continue and probably get worse,” said Viktoria Malyasova, 18, standing outside the Duma.
“I may not be gay but I came to stand up for my rights and the rights of other people to love whom they want,” she said.
There are no official figures on anti-gay crime in Russia, but in an online poll last year, 15 percent of about 900 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender respondents said they had been physically attacked at least once in the previous 10 months.
Putin, who has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral authority and harnessed its influence as a source of political support, has championed socially conservative values since starting a new, six-year term in May 2012.
The gay rights protesters outside the Duma on Tuesday were far outnumbered by around 200 anti-gay activists who surrounded them, chanting “Russia is not Sodom”, singing Orthodox Christian prayers, crossing themselves and throwing rotten eggs.
After scuffles in which one man was knocked to the ground and kicked by the anti-gay activists, police began detaining the gay protesters and bundling them into waiting buses.
Moscow police said about 20 people were detained.
Investigators say homophobia was the motive for the brutal murders of two men in the past month, one in eastern Russia and one in the southern city of Volgograd.
The 60-year-old president denies that there is discrimination against gays, but has criticized them for failing to increase Russia’s population, which has declined sharply since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Duma passed another law on Tuesday that made the insulting of religious feelings a crime punishable by up to three years in prison – a measure proposed after last year’s Pussy Riot protest at a Moscow cathedral.
Two members of the feminist performance group are serving two-year jail sentences for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after a trial that drew international criticism.
Both bills still need the approval of the upper house, and Putin’s signature.