Russia defends law against ‘gay propaganda’
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Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has defended a controversial bill banning homosexual “propaganda” in Russia, saying it is not comparable to the prosecution that gays suffered during the Soviet era.
After Moscow's top court upheld a ban on gay pride marches in the Russian capital last year, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has set off a new controversy concerning the rights of the country's gay and lesbian citizens.
On Tuesday, Lavrov spoke up in defence of a controversial law that would punish gay “propaganda”, telling reporters: “We don't discriminate [against homosexuals], but we don't want discrimination to happen in the opposite direction, when one group of people gets the right to aggressively promote their values, which are different from those of the majority, and to impose them on children."
In January, the Russian parliament’s lower house backed the bill, which would establish fines of up to 12,500 euros for anyone publicly “promoting” homosexuality.
Accused of seeking to reinstate a law defining homosexuality as a criminal act, in effect during the Soviet era, Lavrov countered that gays and lesbians in Russia could “do their thing freely and without punishment”.
He also reminded reporters that such laws had “long been repealed” in the country.
Russian LGBT community reacts
Lavrov’s statements have set off a wave of protest in the Russian LGBT community, which has particularly criticised his use of the term “homosexual propaganda”.
Since the text of the bill, as it is currently written, does not define “homosexual propaganda”, activists fear that the law, if adopted, would penalise gay couples holding hands or kissing in public.
Russian LGBT activists, who have struggled to make themselves heard in a country where homosexuality was still a crime until 1993 and a mental illness until 1999, have been voicing their unease with the “gay propaganda law” for several weeks.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has echoed their concerns, as have several other top European diplomats. “Gay rights are human rights and Russia must adhere to its international obligations”, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans has said.
A version of the law already exists in certain regions of the country, notably in the north-western region, where Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second biggest city, is located.
The upper house of Russian parliament is expected to debate the bill in May.
In the meantime, LGBT activists are continuing to protest against it, hoping to draw international support that could potentially sway the Russian political class.