Russia prepares to advance 'anti-gay' bill

Russia prepares to advance 'anti-gay' bill

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Russia prepares to advance anti-gay bill

Gay rights activists kiss during a protest outside the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, in Moscow January 22, 2013. Russia's parliament is due to hold its first reading on a "homosexual propaganda" law on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Russia's parliament was expected Friday to give initial backing to a bill banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors that could lead to gays being fined for demonstrating or kissing in public.

The highly contentious measure is based on a law passed in President Vladimir Putin's native city of Saint Petersburg last year and in several other Russian regions.

To the horror of gay rights activists, the ruling United Russia party has now put forward a proposal for a federal law before the State Duma lower house of parliament.

Major cities such as Moscow, which ban annual gay rights parades, frown upon homosexuality, which was illegal for much of the Soviet era.

The bill in its current form prohibits "the propaganda of homosexual behaviour among minors". Activists worry that the vague wording of the bill could lead to gays being fined for demonstrating or even holding hands in public.

It also sets out fines for violations of up to 5,000 rubles ($165) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for officials.

Legal entities such as businesses and schools would be fined up to 500,000 rubles ($165,000).

Rights activists have vowed to fight the legislation, and a small group of its foes planned another "kiss-in protest" -- the third such event this week -- outside parliament during the debate.

Last year's Saint Petersburg measure led to a boycott of the former imperial capital by international gay rights groups and a series of fines against couples who appeared in public kissing or holding hands.

The ruling party's law formally aims to shield Russians aged up to 18 from what its authors view as the spread of dangerous and often foreign ideas by Western-backed advocates and new social media.

United Russia has the votes to carry any piece of legislation on its own without consultation with the other parties. But Communist and other lawmakers have also expressed sympathy with the draft.

Friday's reading will be the first of three held in the Duma. Draft laws then move to the upper house for a single vote before reaching Putin's desk.