BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that Russian State Duma deputies voted 388 to 1 in favour of an anti-gay gag law that bans so-called "propaganda of homosexuality" among minors in the first of three readings, as Moscow police detained about 20 opponents of the measure who were staging yet another kissing protest.
According to the report, the bill would levy fines for violations of up to 5,000 rubles ($165) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for officials, while businesses or schools could face up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) if they broke the law.
Activists are concerned that the lack of a clear definition of what constitutes propaganda could result in gays "being fined for demonstrating or even holding hands in public." Journalist and gay rights activist Elena Kostyuchenko recently told Euro News that gay propaganda has not been defined, because "there is no gay propaganda."
The proposed federal bill, introduced by Novosibirsk regional deputies, mirrors a number of anti-gay gag laws that have been enacted in about 10 other cities or regions, including St Petersburg. Kaliningrad reportedly passed a similar measure Jan 24.
Bucking the national trend, the Duma of the Moscow Region rejected a similar measure meant to make "non-traditional sexual orientation propaganda to minors" illegal.
"One year of application of such laws in the regions have shown that, in practice, they are used to persecute dissidents, not to protect the children," Russian LGBT Network chairman Igor Kochetkov said in December. "Under the pretext of protecting the family, the authors of the bill actually destroy it, identifying a family as 'biological union of a man and a woman.' In reality this 'farm' approach to people shows how some deputies look to us, their constituents."
Russia's ruling United Russia Party is spearheading the passage of the bill in the State Duma, even though prime minister Dmitry Medvedev recently said he wasn't aware of his party's plans regarding the bill, saying legislation like that wasn’t needed. "Probably this issue does not concern too many people in the country, and it’s not discussed at all levels," Gay Star News quotes him as saying.
"In the majority of polls, Russians are absolutely supporting these bills," Alexeyev told Xtra in May. He says the last federal poll showed, however, that only eight percent of those surveyed said they ever saw propaganda of homosexuality. "People want to ban something they never saw. It's ridiculous."
The federal bill's backers say they want to protect Russia from what they believe are the "tolerant attitudes in other countries," AFP notes, quoting one United Russia deputy Dmitry Sablin as saying: "Just look at what is happening in Spain. Just look at what is happening in France! Of course we need this law."
United Russia is said to have enough votes in the lower house to pass any legislation without the support of other parties, AFP says.