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Anti-gay law to take effect in Russia's second city St. Petersburg

posted 16 Mar 2012, 09:41 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 16 Mar 2012, 09:42 ]

A law banning overt displays of homosexuality is set to come into effect in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, amid criticism from gay and human rights activists.

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (MARCH 14, 2012) (REUTERS - A controversial law in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg is set to take effect on Saturday (March 17), which outlaws displays of homosexuality that could influence children.

The law, which was signed by St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko on March 7, calls for fines for people who promote "public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors."

People who fall foul of the law face fines ranging from 5,000 rubles ($170 USD) for individuals to 500,000 rubles for businesses, but the exact instances for which the fines would be levied are unclear.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for a halt to implementing the law, which they say will increase discrimination against gays.

Vitaly Milonov, who authored the bill, said he was inspired to act to stem what he sees as the breakdown of morals in Europe.

"We see how the world is changing. We see how blasphemously the standards are being changed, and how the traditional values are vanishing, which our society has and on which our country and all of Europe were built. We don't want for this process to happen in our country. We see how children in some countries are made to sing songs 'I have two dads' and others have to listen to it. We think that it's not right," Milonov said.

Milonov told Reuters that his law was not meant to infringe on civil rights and was not anti-homosexual.

"Naturally, if the people who belong to those non-traditional groups criticise this law. What can I say to this? The law was passed to protect children, but in no way against homosexuals. And this is the point. So if anyone criticises it, then it means that they are worried and need to influence the children," he said.

The lawmaker said his Russian Orthodox faith guided him in crafting the bill, which passed the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly with flying colours.

"There is an appeal from all traditional churches in our country to the legislative assemblies to make similar laws. I couldn't act any other way, because I'm an Orthodox person. I'm not calling for punishing anyone, I am trying to make it so our families are sheltered from this negative influence," Milonov said.

But Russian gay activist Nikolai Alekseev, who leads Gay Russia, said the church should not have any say in public policy.

"(Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin has done everything to be based on church to be based on religion, so he can use everything in his state interest to support his regime. This is the same church that can do everything it wants. It does things that absolutely so not comply with the secular character of our state per the constitution. The church has crossed over all of its boundaries. I, for example am a religious person, but I think that for me, law comes first, and everything else is second," Alekseev said.

Similar laws have been passed in the Arkhangelsk, Ryazan and Kostroma regions, but the St. Petersburg law is gaining more attention, because of the city's status as a tourism destination. Alekseev said he thinks regions will continue to follow St Petersburg's example, but the passage of a national law is unlikely.

"I don't rule it out that other regions will pass exactly the same laws. From the point of view of PR of individual people who are involved in this issue, from the point of view of someone with religious conviction or something, I think this process will pretty much continue in the regions. I think that the federal authorities have already seen the protest potential in St. Petersburg, and the attention it has drawn world-wide. I think that this issue was raised among our state leaders at the highest level, and I think they won't risk raising this issue now in the State Duma and provoke that direct conflict, direction confrontation with the Council of Europe, the European Union and so on," Alekseev said.

Additionally, Alekseev said, international attention to the St. Petersburg law is actually helping raise the profile of the gay community in Russia.

"Soon, very soon, they will will begin to say 'thank you' to us. Because this case is begin considered now by the UN Committee on Human Rights, and in July at the committee session in Geneva will discuss it again and make a decision. And this will create a judicial basis for withdrawing these laws in the future. Then there will be the European Court of Human Rights. The Ryazan case has been expected to be considered there for several years. And we are planning to intensify our work in the next months in order to make this case a thermonuclear one so that it will be impossible to deny our demands," Alekseev said.

In 1993, Russian President Boris Yeltsin repealed the Soviet law banning homosexuality. According to Alekseev, gay rights activists began to celebrate its decriminalisation in 2006 with gay pride events. However the Moscow mayor's office has banned gay pride marches in recent years and unsanctioned actions have seen arrests and clashes with anti-gay demonstrators.

In St. Petersburg, the Federation of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Sports of Russia has held a youth sports competition for several years. It's not clear how the law will affect this event.