As police in Moscow kept watch over hundreds of gay activists who were holding a rally, the Russian parliament unanimously passed a law yesterday banning "gay propaganda."
The law passed 436-0, with only one deputy abstaining from voting on the bill, which prohibits the spreading of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors.
The passage of the law comes on the heels of a number of actions that activists say the Russian government has taken in violation of basic human rights.
Earlier this week, a Russian LGBT film festival was fined about $10,000 for acting as a "foreign agent." Organizers of the St. Petersburg Bok o Bok (Side by Side) festival say they were fined in an attempt to squash the group's screenings and discussions relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
On June 1, the government announced a ban on adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples. Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, had said April 1 that a French law allowing same-sex marriage went against traditional Russian values and that Russia would take steps to ensure that gay couples from abroad did not adopt Russian orphans. Russia banned all adoptions by Americans this year in a dispute with the United States over human rights.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993. Prior to that, it was punishable with jail terms.
Putin has frequently championed socially conservative values and courted the Russian Orthodox Church during the new term he started in March, 2012. A poll by the Levada Centre found that 38 percent of Russians believe gay people needed medical treatment and another 13 percent said they should face prosecution. A March poll found that 85 percent opposed same-sex marriage.
Putin, who has criticized gay people for "not adding to Russia's population," insists that "Russia does not discriminate."
Russian gay activists say Putin's statements, combined with the law passed yesterday, encourage discrimination. The brutal killing of a man who police said told drinking partners he was gay has stoked fear of more anti-gay violence.
The law passed yesterday makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, and to distribute material on gay rights. It provides fines for both Russians and foreigners found guilty of breaking the law.
Immediately after passing the law, the Duma also approved a law allowing jail sentences of up to three years for "offending religious feelings."
"I have sincere contempt for the Duma's deputies, all of them, including the so-called opposition. You have now brought fascism to my country," wrote Yelena Kostychenko, a journalist at the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
The two new laws are seen as strengthening the hand of the Russian Orthodox Church, an organization repeatedly called upon by Putin to boost his own political standing.
"The government is using homophobia and xenophobia to justify its policies against an independent civil society," said Igor Kochetkov, the president of the LGBT Network, another St. Petersburg group. "They are making enemies out of us - not just LGBT society, but any group that doesn't agree with their current politics."
Photo: Ivan Sekretarev/AP