The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, voted on Thursday, Oct 27, to toughen up a notorious 2013 “gay propaganda” law, part of Moscow’s conservative drive at home while its troops battle in Ukraine.
Rights campaigners, who condemn the 2013 law, say the new amendments mean, in effect, that any public mention of same-sex couples is being criminalised.
The Duma website said lawmakers had “unanimously” voted, in a first reading, to ban “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to all Russian adults.
The bill still needs to be approved by the upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, before it can be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
The chair of the board of the Russian LGBT Network, Natalia Soloviova, warned the law would “create a situation where nobody can speak openly or positively about LGBTQs”.
The original 2013 law banned what authorities deemed as “gay propaganda” to minors. The amendments would extend it to all Russian adults.
The new provisions set out a ban on “gay propaganda” in the media, internet, advertisement, literature and cinema.
Also included are bans on the “propaganda of paedophilia”.
The bill would outlaw the “denial of family values” and also has a clause against propaganda that could “cause minors to desire to change their sex”.
Foreigners who violate the law would face expulsion, according to its text.
Officials had urged parliament to adopt the law, portraying it as a part of a civilisational clash with the West that has intensified since the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine.
“A special military operation takes place not only on the battlefields, but also in the minds of people,” senior lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein said on social media, lauding the law’s approval.
He called on Russia to “protect” itself from the “threat” of same-sex relationships.
“This is for the future of our country: for the health of the nation, for demography.”
Another lawmaker, Communist Nina Ostanina, said that while minors were “protected” from gay influence by the 2013 law “the adult population now also needs protection”.
“We need to protect (people) from this advancing ideological weapon. The war is happening on all fronts.”
Leap into the ‘unknown’
Soloviova, of Russia’s LGBTQ Network, told AFP the law “enables and encourages discrimination” and could lead to an “increase in hate crimes”, as its 2013 version did.
It would effectively ban all public mention of the community, whereas this was previously possible with “18+” disclaimers.
“It is absolutely absurd because people would be forbidden to speak about themselves, their lives,” she told AFP by phone.
She said the law would represent a leap into the “unknown” for Russia’s LGBTQs, saying it was unclear how it would be applied.
“The unknown is awaiting us. Will they use it? Is it just for show?”
Soloviova said ordinary Russians do not see the issue of sexual minorities as a priority, especially as daily life has become harder due to economic sanctions and international isolation.
She believes officials use the rights of sexual minorities to portray geopolitical triumphs.
“The LGBT community is seen as a Western thing. So this is like a small victory against the West, even if, in reality, it really is not.”
Some Russian book publishers and film producers have raised censorship concerns, saying the law could even affect publications and productions of Russian classics.
Putin has made social conservatism a cornerstone of his rule.
In his speech annexing Ukrainian territories last month, he railed against families with a “parent number one and a parent number two” — apparently alluding to same-sex parenting.
New constitutional amendments passed in a controversial vote in 2020 define marriage in Russia exclusively as the union of a man and a woman.
In a ranking of 49 European countries, the Rainbow Europe organisation ranked Russia as fourth from the bottom in terms of tolerance of LGBTQ people.
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