Saint Petersburg - The local parliament in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg on Wednesday passed a controversial law banning “homosexual propaganda”, in defiance of protests by gay rights groups.
The law - passed in a third and final reading with 29 parliamentarians in favour and five against - makes it illegal to spread “propaganda” among minors aged under 18 in favour of homosexuality and paedophilia.
But gay rights groups have said the law is dangerous as it will be left up to the whim of the authorities to decide what constitutes propaganda, meaning gays could risk being punished simply for their lifestyle.
“This law is shameful for the Saint Petersburg parliament,” said Olga Galkina of the Yabloko (Apple) liberal party, whose deputies with one exception voted against the law.
“The authorities cannot make up divisions between people. How will citizens protect their rights? The authorities will hardly be competent to determine whether this is propaganda or lifestyle,” she said.
But the law was strongly supported by Saint Petersburg's governor Georgy Poltavchenko and its authors have also vowed to bring a similar initiative to the federal State Duma parliament for adoption nationwide.
“I have not heard a single word in this law that is not in line with Russian laws,” one of the initiators of the new law, Vitaly Milonov of the ruling United Russia party, said.
“Homophobia is a term thought up by people of untraditional sexual orientation about people who do not understand the way in which they live,” he added.
Offenders risk being punished with a fine of up to 50 000 rubles ($1 700) if found guilty of promoting homosexuality.
The fines for promoting paedophilia - whose distinction from homosexuality is not made explicitly clear in the law - rise to one million rubles.
The law forbids “making propaganda through public acts for homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality and trans-genderism among minors”.
According to the law, this would mean spreading information “harmful to the health and moral and spiritual development of minors, including the formation within them of a distorted idea of the social balance between traditional and untraditional married relationships”. - Sapa-AFP