Russian Parliament May Pass Anti-Gay Law

The Russian parliament is expected to give final approval this week to a bill that would make it illegal to expose children to information about homosexuality. Russian law experts say the courts would likely rule against the legislation because it violates the Russian constitution's ban on discrimination. Even so, authorities could use it to harass specific organizations or visitors from abroad such as Madonna who spoke in favor of gay rights during a concert in St. Petersburg last year. And the legislation could curry favor among conservatives whom Putin has been courting since returning to the presidency.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. Russia's parliament is expected to give final approval this week to a bill that would make it illegal to expose children to information about homosexuality. President Vladimir Putin has said that he'll sign that bill. It's part of a turn toward conservative moral values that the Russian leader has espoused since returning to the presidency last year. Critics say the vaguely worded legislation could be used to ban gay pride marches or virtually any public discussion of same-sex issues. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: As the Duma - Russia's lower house of parliament, was discussing the bill - a small group of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual activists gathered outside to protest. As the demonstrators unfurled a rainbow banner and began to hold a kiss-in, they were surrounded by hecklers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANGRY VOICES)

FLINTOFF: As the anti-gay crowd grew and scuffles broke out, police detained the protesters and took them away in buses. Inside the Duma, Elena Mizulina, the head of the committee on families, was celebrating a near-unanimous vote in favor of the bill. Mizulina is a member of President Putin's United Russia Party who's helped to push through other controversial pieces of legislation, including a ban on American families adopting Russian children.

ELENA MIZULINA: (Russian spoken)

FLINTOFF: She pointed to a recent poll as evidence that the lawmakers were responding to the public will. Mizulina said that 88 percent of the people surveyed were in favor of the anti-gay measure. Igor Yasin, a gay rights activist in Moscow, says he believes the polling is slanted.

IGOR YASIN: I don't think that the Russian society is very homophobic, no. It's just because the government wants to exploit us as scapegoats.

FLINTOFF: Yessin says the government started to step up homophobic rhetoric about two years ago, in an effort to shore up support among socially conservative voters. Yekaterina Mishina is an associate professor at Russia's Higher School of Economics, and a specialist in Russian constitutional law. She says the law would not pass constitutional muster, in the first place because it violates the Russian constitution's ban on discrimination. And secondly...

YEKATERINA MISHINA: Homosexuality is not a crime anymore, under the Russian criminal legislation enforced.

FLINTOFF: How can it be a crime, Mishina says, to disseminate information about something that's not illegal? Some observers don't believe that constitutionality is really the point. This is Dan Healey, a professor of history at Reading University in Britain.

DAN HEALEY: It's a gesture, obviously, rather than something that is going to be enforceable. But then, laws are curious things in Russia. They don't function like laws in a rule-of-law state. So it could become a resource for the government to harass specific organizations, or specific visitors from abroad.

FLINTOFF: The law could potentially be used against visiting performers such as Madonna, who spoke in favor of gay rights during a concern in St. Petersburg, last year. Critics say the bill could also be seen as condoning violence against homosexuals. In the past few weeks, there have been two murders that police say were motivated by hatred against the victims, who were identified as gay men.

The authors of the legislation have stressed that it's designed to protect children from dangerous influences. But Igor Yasin says the effect could be the opposite.

YASIN: This law will make the lives of LGBT teenagers very difficult because it will be difficult for them to get proper information about their sexuality.

FLINTOFF: He says a homophobic environment in Russia already contributes to a high rate of suicide among gay teenagers, a particularly disturbing statistic in Russia, which has a teen suicide rate three times higher than the world average.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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