Tuesday morning, the Russian Duma passed an anti-gay bill imposing hefty fines for holding gay-pride rallies in the country or providing information about the LGBT community to minors. The bill passed almost unanimously (434-0, with one abstention), and individuals who breach this law will be subject to a fine of up to 5,000 rubles ($156), and media organizations up to 1 million rubles ($31,000).
The bill has not yet been approved by the Russian upper house, but considering the overwhelming anti-gay sentiment in the country and the fact that President Vladimir Putin is a vocal proponent of the bill, there is no reason to doubt that the bill will not come into law.
Although Putin denies that Russia discriminates against homosexuals, he has criticized them for failing to increase the country's population, which has been falling sharply since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In fact, Putin, who embraces the Russian Orthodox Church as a moral authority and source of political support, said at a Russia-EU summit in April that a newly passed French law allowing same-sex marriage went against Russian values. "As for a law restricting adoption of children from Russia by same-sex families ... if such a law is passed by parliament I will sign it," he also added. This legislation allowing only "traditional" — namely, heterosexual — foreign families to adopt Russian children would be submitted to parliament later this year.
Other proponents of the bill also say that homosexual relations are "not conducive to procreation," and lawmaker Yelena Mizulina said that "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."
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, homosexuals in Russia have suffered a long history of discrimination, despite what Putin claims about the absence of social stigma against homosexuals. Before the vote on Tuesday, gay activists staged a "kissing protest" outside parliament, but they were outnumbered by around 200 anti-gay Orthodox Christian activists and members of pro-Kremlin youth groups, who according to the AP "pelted them with eggs while shouting obscenities and homophobic slurs." Riot police detained more than a dozen gay activists on the scene, and it was reported that some of those who were not detained were "viciously attacked by masked men on a central street a mile away."
The United States criticized the bill in May, and on Monday, Human Rights Watch said that the bill would "infringe Russian citizens' freedom of expression and information, and discriminate against Russia's LGBT community."
Despite both national and international criticism of this bill, it is unlikely that the Russian government will alter its opinion on the issue. In February, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the bill, saying that Russia does not have any international or European commitment to "allow propaganda of homosexuality." Russian rights activists also say that the bill is part of a political effort by Putin to appeal to conservative voters, with whom is he losing popularity. A recent poll also found that nearly half of Russians — a vast majority of whom belongs to the Christian Orthodox Church — believe that the LGBT community should not enjoy the same rights as other citizens.