In June of this year, Russia’s lower house of parliament (the Duma) passed a new law, which bans the spread of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” amongst minors. The bill, which was pre-approved in January, passed unanimously in the lower house and was soon after signed into law by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Although, homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, anti-gay sentiment remains high.
Russia has never been accepting of their LGBT community. According to BBC World News, the international gay rights watchdog IIga-Europe’s latest assessment of 49 European states, rated Russia as the hardest place for gay people to live in. The report, which was compiled before the propaganda law was passed, looked at everything from hate crime to family recognition. It is also well known that the less than receptive attitude towards gay people has not been aided by the intensely conservative attitude among the Russian Orthodox Christians and the Muslims.
Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin was quick to deny the claim that gays face discrimination in Russia, saying that the new law which has attracted much criticism worldwide does not infringe on their rights. Putin asserts that the law bans only “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” and he goes on to argue that there is “no infringement on the rights of sexual minorities.” President Putin in defence of the propaganda law said that while some European countries allowed gay marriages, “the Europeans are dying out…and gay marriages don’t produce children.”
“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” said lawmaker Yelena Mizulina when speaking in support of the propaganda law. Other proponents of the bill stand behind the government citing that homosexual relations are “not conducive to procreation.”
On the other hand critics have dismissed the arguments raised by the proponents calling the bill homophobic and so vaguely defined that it would inevitably be used arbitrarily against gays and stir hate crimes in the country. Graeme Reid, the LGBT rights program director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), has criticized the law saying that “Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it ‘tradition’, but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people.” He goes on to say that “to try to exclude LGBT people as ‘non-traditional’, is to try and make them less than human. It is cynical, and it is dangerous.”
The makings of the gay propaganda law can be described as outright discriminatory. The question to be asked however, is whether it serves a greater good? This is the claim of Yelena Muzulina who asserts that the law is not discriminatory but rather it serves as an answer to Russia’s demographic crisis. The government’s claim of a declining birth rate is backed by empirical data and after all, President Putin did hire Boyz II Men earlier this year to put on a performance in Russia in an attempt to boost the birth rate. If that’s not dedication, I don’t what is. To those who think the law seems harsh maybe it is but that could just be the Russian way of doing things. Who are we judge? How would you boost the declining birth rate in a country like Russia?