Same-sex marriage countries received another insult from Russia last week as a new piece of anti-gay legislation was once again signed into law. As Russia hosts the twenty-second Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, much of the world continues to challenge the country’s place as a modern world power given its obvious intolerance and disrespect for nations whose values differ from their own. The most concrete evidence of this Russian homophobia is a string anti-gay legislation that the country has enacted over the past few years. The latest instance of such legislation, a decree signed into law by Prime Minister Medvedev on February 10, takes on a whole new tone as it targets LGBT people who live beyond Russia’s borders. The decree, which took effect on February 12, bans the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples in other countries as well as the adoption of Russian children by unmarried people in countries where same-sex marriage is legal. Russian lawmakers have publicly expressed their position that allowing unmarried persons to adopt Russian children is too risky a proposition as such individuals could either be homosexual or become homosexual at a later date.
Last week’s decree builds on existing legislation that was passed in July banning same-sex couples within Russia from adopting children. The government has also passed other laws including its infamous “propaganda law” of last June, which amongst other things, makes it illegal to hold a gay-pride parade in the country, to defend gay rights, to circulate pamphlets or literature promoting gay rights or to present homosexual relationships as being normal or equal to heterosexual (or traditional) relationships.
The current legislation which takes aim specifically at citizens of other countries was presented by Prime Minister Medvedev as being necessary in order to “guarantee a full and harmonious development for adopted children and to safeguard their psyche and consciousness from possible unwanted influence such as artificial forcing of non-traditional sexual behavior.” The law also refers to the “suffering, complexes and stresses that, according to psychologists’ studies, are often experienced by children raised in same-sex families,” and to “protect the rights and interests” of parentless children who are up for adoption by Russians and foreigners alike. President Putin has also opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage within Russia claiming that to do so could result in violent protests in certain parts of the country.
Many in the international community are asking whether Russia’s legislative actions are really about “protecting” parentless children or whether they are more about the ego of Russian leaders and their seeming desire to spite Western societies by enacting a string of homophobic policies. World leaders as well as certain Olympic officials have petitioned Russia to reverse its anti-gay legislation or to at least adopt a more tolerant narrative especially while hosting the Olympic winter games, but as evidenced by the events of last week, the Kremlin has deliberately responded to international criticism by passing even more extreme legislation. Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for Human Rights Watch claims that Russia’s recent legislative actions are part of an ideological campaign against the LGBT community. This is quite easy to believe, especially given President Putin’s bold reference to Western tolerance as being “genderless and infertile.” Ms. Lokshina has also warned that yet another law is in the works which would prevent Russian couples engaged in “non-traditional” relationships from having children by surrogacy.
The electoral interests of the Russian government may also be at heart given the fact that the Russian public strongly supports the government’s actions. Although the country’s anti-gay policies may seem extreme by Western standards, support for the legislation within Russia remains high with close to 90 percent of the public supporting the recent propaganda law. As much as 74 percent of Russians feel that homosexuality should not be accepted by society at all, with only 16 percent of Russians responding that non-traditional sexual relations should be accepted. This contrasts starkly with a country like Britain where only 18 percent of British subjects reject homosexual behavior and 76 percent accept it. According to Ms. Lokshina, the government is effectively securing votes by appealing to the interests of the country’s rather large socially conservative base.
Critics of Russia’s many anti-gay laws argue that they are so broad in their scope that they effectively ban gay rights altogether as well as any public expression of homosexuality or support for it. Activists believe that the laws have exacerbated anti-gay sentiment in the country and have increased violence against LGBT people. Homosexuals in Russia suffer a number of social disadvantages (job discrimination and ineligibility for legal representation in some cases to name two) and since the passing of the various laws there has been an increase in hate crimes against homosexuals in the country.
In response to what it perceives as gross intolerance, many in the international community have demonstrated against Russia in a number of ways, such as by boycotting the purchase of Russian products. There were also calls on the International Olympic
Committee to stop the games in Sochi given the government’s clear disregard for the core Olympic values of tolerance and respect for others. The IOC had responded to the pleas citing its non-discrimination policy which upholds a certain divide between sport and political posture.
Visitors to Russia who are deemed to be propagating untraditional values are subject to imprisonment and deportation. The government obstructed the establishment of a Pride House in Sochi where LGBT athletes and their supporters would meet. Furthermore, in an interview leading up to the games last month, President Putin encouraged LGBT peoples from across the globe to visit Sochi on condition that they “leave the children in peace.”
Although there are many in the international community who feel targeted by Russia’s policies, perhaps the most noteworthy victims of Russia’s actions are the children in the country who live without parental care. UNICEF and other aid organizations estimate parentless children in the country to number anywhere from 740,000 to 4 million. Over the past two decades, Russia has been one of the largest sources of international adoptees second only to China. While the Russian government encourages as much domestic adoption as possible, there are simply not enough adoption-seeking heterosexual couples within the country to go around. The country saw only 6,000 domestic adoptions in 2012 with no increase in that number expected to happen any time soon.
The new legislation therefore begs the question of what will happen to the millions of parentless children who are unable to find a heterosexual couple willing to take them in. And the outlook for children who are raised in Russian orphanages and other institutions can often be quite bleak in terms of normal development and later success in life. The new law will reduce the capacity of countries that normally adopt large numbers of Russian children to do so; these include France, Spain and Canada to name a few. The United Kingdom is the next country scheduled to legalize same-sex marriage later this year—a move sure to bring about even more complications.
It is rather bold indeed, if not controversial, for the Russian government to suggest that their orphans are better off following last week’s decree. Perhaps a more careful balance ought to be sought by Russian lawmakers as they ban adoptions by single and LGBT people living in countries that allow same-sex marriage. In making their war on same-sex marriage a legislative priority, one thing is clear: they prefer to either institutionalize their many orphans, or let them remain homeless, than to have them enter “non-traditional” homes.
Editorial by Nicholas Maletskas