Russia’s parliament is considering a bill that would ban some couples from kissing or holding hands.
The bill comes up for discussion next week and would ban “public expressions of non-traditional relationships.” Any non-heterosexual couple caught hugging or kissing would face a fine. If said affection happened at an “educational or cultural institution,” the punishment could be even 15 days in jail.
Introduced by Duma deputies from the country’s Communist Party, this is Russia’s staunchest anti-gay legislation in recent years. The parliament’s legal experts have come out against the proposal because the bill’s formulations are imprecise. It has sparked controversy both domestically and internationally, with more than 30,000 people signing an online petition against it.
“It is hard to exaggerate the sinister absurdity and abusive intent of this bill—it would effectively outlaw being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and penalize people for expressing their identity, a crucial part of anyone’s existence,” writes Tanya Cooper, the Russia researcher for Human Rights Watch. Cooper, and other observers, are concerned by the fact that the bill has gone so far as as to have a reading in parliament.
“If passed, it will put President Vladimir Putin in an uncomfortable situation,” writes Cooper. Despite Russia’s introduction of the widely-criticized anti-gay “propaganda” law in 2013, Putin has repeatedly said, including in an interview with CBS’ 60 minutes, that gay people are not persecuted in Russia.
This tone is quite different from one of the authors of the bill, Ivan Nikitchuk, who spoke to Daniil Turovsky of independent Russian website Meduza. He called gays “sick and crazy people,” and emphasized his bill would prevent displays of “demonic desires.”
“Sorry, guys, but this is Russia,” Nikitchuk said. “This is our country, where we’ve always respected traditions, where we’ve always had and still have today a conscience and the concept of shame. And all these bearded men kissing is nothing but nauseating.”
He framed the issue as a battle between “traditional” Russian “values” and liberal Western thought. “There’s a good reason why the West has poured so much money into this issue, which has invaded our minds in Russia. They’re corrupting the youth, disorienting us, and plotting to weaken our birth rate. It’s all part of a larger plan.”