Russia's parliament is to debate a bill that would strip LGBT parents of custody if they are found to be "promoting non-traditional relations" to their own children.
A follow-up to a law passed in June that essentially bans most public discussions of homosexuality, the bill, introduced Thursday, would treat being gay as an "asocial lifestyle" equal to child abuse or not paying child support.
Alexei Zhuravlyov, the far-right lawmaker who authored the bill, told the Russian news website Slon that courts would look for "clear signs" of homosexuality when deciding whether to strip parents of custody. Zhuravlyov admitted that the law would only work if "information about a parent's sexual orientation wound up in some sort of public domain." Appearing to allude to the common practice of gay Russians entering into straight marriages, Zhuravlyov said: "If someone hides his orientation and skulks around basements, then that's his problem, let him remain one-on-one with that sin. It doesn't affect society much," he added. Law enforcement would establish a parent's sexuality "if necessary," he said. Widespread homophobia and incomprehension often prompt gay Russians, closeted and not, to enter into straight marriages and start families.
Zhuravlyov estimates that just between five and seven percent of Russians are gay, and about a third of that number - between 2.3 and 3.3. million people - have children. Zhuravlyov's bill would also extend to single gay parents. Russia's run-down orphanages already hold hundreds of thousands of children, many of whose parents are alive but unfit to parent.
"A homosexualist shouldn't bring up a child. He perverts it. He harms him a lot more than if he were in a children's home," Zhuravlyov said. As evidence, Zhuravlyov's bill cites a study by Mark Regnerus, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, which argued that children of gay parents were as much as a third more likely to be gay than children of straight parents, and at greater risk of suicide, sexually transmitted disease, unemployment, and cheating on their partners. Regnerus' study has been widely discredited, but Zhuravlyov wrote that it had been "carefully checked by independent experts and raises no doubts."
Russia's rubber-stamp parliament regularly passes Kremlin-backed laws unanimously, including the "gay propaganda" ban that it passed in June, earning it the nickname of "the rabid printer." Zhuravlyov's bill is not necessarily a sure bet to become law, however. Many lawmakers often compete publicly to propose outlandish ways to build on Kremlin initiatives, sometimes without the expectation of getting them to a vote. Zhuravlyov even said he was happy for his bill to scuttle negotiations over a visa-free regime with the European Union, a longstanding Kremlin foreign policy priority. "We see Europe as Sodom and Gomorrah," he said.
Yet the idea of stripping LGBT parents of custody has been gaining support. The idea was first voiced in June by lawmaker Elena Mizulina, the public face of a Kremlin-engineered conservative revival launched when Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency last year.
Masha Gessen, a journalist and prominent Putin critic who is a lesbian, wrote in a Guardian op-ed last month after Mizulina's proposal that she was leaving the country for fear that the state would strip her and her partner of custody of their three children.
Max Seddon is a correspondent for BuzzFeed World based in Berlin. He has reported from Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and across the ex-Soviet Union and Europe. His secure PGP fingerprint is 6642 80FB 4059 E3F7 BEBE 94A5 242A E424 92E0 7B71
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