Gay minorities in Russia claim they are being unfairly targeted after a law was signed last week that seeks to punish anyone "making public actions among minors for the propaganda of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality or transgenderism (LGBT)," and which the Orthodox Church supports.
Homosexuality became legal in Russia in 1993, but society at large has remained un-accepting of alternative lifestyles. A 2010 poll by the independent Levada Center in Moscow found that 74 percent of Russian citizens regard homosexuality as a result of bad moral choices, or think of it as a "disease," while only 15 percent describe it as just another sexual orientation that "has the same right to existence" as heterosexual lifestyles.
Now, anyone deemed to be influencing minors to be more accepting of homosexuality faces up to a $16,000 fine, after St. Petersburg Gov. Georgy Poltavchenko signed the bill into law last week along with the regions of Ryazan, Archangelsk, and Kostroma.
The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest religious denomination in the country, has spoken up in favor of the bill, and called upon the lower house of parliament to pass a national version of that law, the Guardian reported.
"The determination displayed by representatives of sexual minorities and their desire to continue rallying outside children's establishments indicate the timeliness of this regional law, which should, without delay, be given federal status," declared Hieromonk Dmitri Pershin, the Orthodox Church's representative on youth issues.
Not surprisingly, the new legislation has been firmly opposed by Russian LGBT groups, who say the law is designed to validate widespread public hostility toward gay people, and will seek to undo any civil rights progress that had occurred in the country over the last few years.
"No legal experts seem able to explain how this law would be applied in practice," said Polina Savchenko, general manager of Coming Out, a St. Petersburg LGBT group. "There is a fear that it will be used as an instrument to prevent any kind of activity the state doesn't approve of. The language of the law is so vague that it could apply to any kind of public discourse, any discussion of gay issues, in almost any venue. I mean, how can you be sure that minors won't access the Internet, or read mass media discussions?"
"We already live in a very homophobic environment, and this law just pushes us back in time. In the minds of people, it makes discrimination against gay people appear to be legal again," Savchenko added.
Nikolai Alexeyev, considered Russia's most outspoken gay rights activist, warned that he would launch a protest campaign to get the law repealed. At the same time, it is likely the law will make it even more difficult for gay pride parades and demonstrations to be staged in Russian cities that impose this law, as such gatherings are already banned on a regular basis.
Church officials insisted, however, that the primary purpose behind the law is to protect youths from being influenced by the homosexual lifestyle.
"The church is not the initiator of [these laws], but many believers have been waiting for such legislation to appear," explained Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department of cooperation with society. "The propaganda of [homosexual lifestyles] should not take place where minors can feel its influence; the same is true about heterosexual lechery…. Public manifestations of this way of life are unacceptable for the majority of society. It is our duty to secure our children against it. That have no right to promote their way of life."