‘The best way of treating homosexuality is through ‘sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance and the reading of the Holy Scripture’.
‘Any man can change – he can stop being a drunkard, or liar, or homosexual, or blasphemer, or pagan, or anything else, with God’s help.’
‘People advocating homosexual practices should not be allowed to carry out teaching or educational work with children or young people.’
These statements do not originate from Medieval England. Rather, they are excerpts from the Russian Orthodox Church’s social policy statement, released in mid-2000. Thirteen years on and little seems to have changed. Last Friday, the first reading of a bill to impose fines of up to $16,000 upon individuals and organisations promoting ‘propaganda for homosexuality among minors’ was passed in the Russian State Duma by a vote of 388-1. Thus far, there has been no elaboration made by Russian MPs regarding the definition of the terms ‘propaganda’, ‘homosexuality’ or ‘among minors’. This has prompted fears amongst human rights commentators that if passed, the bill could provide Russian authorities with a powerful tool to repress Russia’s fledgling LGBT community: using the legislation as justification for breaking up gay rights rallies across Russia.
Igor Kochetkov, Chair of the Russian LGBT Network, spoke to The Backbencher:
‘Supporters of the homophobic laws refer in their argumentation to the opinion of the “majority”. However, we see that the initiative is actively supported by certain religious fanatics and fans of Nazi symbols. Our protests are met with insults and violence on their part. No reasonable arguments are provided in support of the law.
‘MPs several times postponed consideration of the bill, which is indicative of their hesitance with the matter. 14% did not vote, and those who voted in favour of Article 6.13.1 voted for the spread of ignorance and hatred.
‘The good news is that the public debate around homophobic laws have made us – Russian LGBT activists – stronger, and the issue of LGBT emancipation one of the most discussed topics in the public realm. This cannot be neglected.’
Similar laws have already been adopted in several Russian regions, but the latest bill is designed to be implemented on a federal level. Critics see it as an attempt by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to garner support from Russia’s ultra-conservative society; around one in three Russians stated that homosexuality was caused by a ‘sickness or a psychological trauma’ in a poll last year by the Levada Centre. Homosexuality was decriminalised as recently as 1993, before which the feared Article 121 of the Russian criminal code authorised prison sentences of up to five years for homosexual behaviour. Historical records suggest that as many as 1,000 men were arrested annually during the 1980s.
The maximum fine of $16,000 (around £10,000) detailed in the legislation is more than a year’s average earnings in Russia. With the second of three readings expected to take place in late spring, LGBT groups across the country will have little time to campaign against the proposed law. If the bill makes it past the third reading, it will be ratified by President Putin. It is only then that the full impact of the legislation upon Russia’s gay and lesbian community can be judged.
Comments taken from the Russia Today website on the news of the bill’s first reading being passed.
Ahead of the bill being debated in the Duma, gay rights protesters staging a ‘kiss-in’ were attacked in the streets. Police detained twenty people