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‘The president likes the topic’ Russian lawmakers develop competing bills in race to amend ‘gay propaganda’ law, sources tell Meduza

Source: Meduza
Maxim Girgoriev / TASS

On Monday, State Duma lawmakers put forward a bill that would broaden Russia’s existing “gay propaganda” law. The proposed amendments would ban “the denial of family values,” as well as “the promotion of non-traditional sexual orientations.” Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin say that this particular bill is unlikely to be adopted, mainly because it wasn’t authored by lawmakers from the ruling party. But they also say that United Russia has a similar initiative in the works.

On July 18, a group of lawmakers from the Communist Party (KPRF) and A Just Russia submitted a bill to the State Duma on banning “the denial of family values” and “the promotion of non-traditional sexual orientations.” 

In the bill’s explanatory note, the authors argued that denying family values, promoting the “childfree” lifestyle, and “popularizing non-traditional sexual orientations” are no less dangerous to the development of Russian society than the promotion of suicide, drugs, extremism, and other types of illegal behavior. 

The proposed bill echoes the infamous “gay propaganda” law Russia adopted in 2013. Among other things, the 2013 legislation amended the Code of Administrative Offenses with Article 6.21, which outlines penalties for “promoting non-traditional sexual orientations among minors.” Individuals found guilty can be jailed for up to 15 days, while organizations can be fined up to one million rubles ($17,000) or forced to suspend operations for up to 90 days. In practice, this statute has been used to persecute LGBTQ+ rights activists. 

Background reading

‘Families are the most vulnerable’ A look at LGBTQ rights in Russia, eight years after the introduction of the infamous ‘gay propaganda’ law

Background reading

‘Families are the most vulnerable’ A look at LGBTQ rights in Russia, eight years after the introduction of the infamous ‘gay propaganda’ law

The authors of the new draft law believe that the 2013 legislation didn’t go far enough. They even argue that the “approval and recognition” of “non-traditional sexual orientations” poses demographic and economic threats. 

The bill’s authors also proposed imposing additional restrictions on Russia’s film industry, including an explicit ban on issuing distribution certificates to films that “promote the denial of family values and non-traditional sexual orientations.” The draft legislation does not clarify what constitutes “promotion” (propaganda, in Russian) or “the denial of family values” — nor does it outline specific penalties for violations. 

Among the bill’s authors are Nina Ostanina (KPRF), who heads the State Duma Committee on Family Issues, Nikolai Burlyaev (A Just Russia), and Rodina party leader Alexey Zhuravlev (a member of the LDPR faction).

In a recent interview, Ostanina connected the development of the draft law to Vladimir Putin signing a decree establishing July 8 as Family Day in Russia. “For us, a traditional family is a union of a man and woman, it’s children, it’s a multi-generational family. And the promotion of ‘childfree’ in this case is just promoting the rejection of traditional family values,” the lawmaker told 

Nina Ostanina at a Russian State Duma plenary sessions
Russian State Duma Press Service / TASS 

In the same interview, Ostanina accused well-known directors Kirill Serebrennikov and Konstantin Bogomolov of “promoting non-traditional relationships.”

A few days later, on July 21, Ostanina proposed making the dissemination of “gay propaganda” a criminal offense. Nina Ostanina did not respond to Meduza’s questions. 

A local initiative

According to Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin, the bill put to the State Duma grew out of another piece of draft legislation. On June 7, the Sevastopol Legislative Assembly submitted a very similar bill proposing penalties for the “promotion of non-traditional sexual orientations.” 

The document outlined an extremely vague definition of “promotion,” but it did not contain clauses pertaining to the “denial of family values.” The proposed penalties included fines ranging from 40–50,000 rubles (approximately $685-$855) for individuals, 100–500,000 rubles ($1,700–$8,550) for public officials, and 1–5 million rubles ($17,000–$85,500) for legal entities (or the forced suspension of operations for up to 90 days). 

State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin sent the draft law to the parliament’s Committee on Legislation for consideration, but the committee deemed it unconstitutional. According to Meduza’s sources in the State Duma, the committee rejected the bill because it was “local initiative” that hadn’t been coordinated with Putin’s Executive Office (the Presidential Administration) or the State Duma leadership. 

Two sources close to the Putin administration also stressed that the idea put forward by the Sevastopol legislators “interested” Volodin himself. 

“We need to strengthen the institution of the family, to surround our loved ones with love, care, and attention. With the withdrawal from the Council of Europe, demands to legalize same-sex marriage in Russia have become a thing of the past. Attempts to impose alien values on our society have failed,” Volodin wrote on Telegram on July 8, the newly established Family Day. “Introducing a ban on the promotion of non-traditional values is the right thing to do,” he added.

According to a Meduza source, the State Duma chairman “is aware” that initiatives ostensibly aimed at defending “traditional values” are likely to score points with Vladimir Putin. “The president likes the topic of defending ‘traditional values,’ especially in opposition to the West. He’s talked about this more than once,” this person said. “Volodin is showing that he’s protecting the country’s interests in the rear, while Putin is captivated by the front.” 

Imposing an agenda

Meduza’s sources presume that Volodin was the one behind the new “gay propaganda” bill. However, the fact that there isn’t a single United Russia lawmaker or other “high-status representative” of the authorities among the current draft law’s authors led them to believe that the chances of the State Duma actually adopting it are minimal. 

But these sources also pointed out that in any case, Volodin has “managed to impose an agenda” on his colleagues in the State Duma. Indeed, on July 11, United Russia lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein proposed amending the existing “gay propaganda” law so that it applies to adult audiences, not just minors. According to Khinshtein, who heads the State Duma Committee on Informational Policy, the ban would extend to offline statements, publications in the media and on social networks, and online cinemas. The State Duma would presumably consider the relevant draft legislation during the fall session. Vyacheslav Volodin and Alexander Khinshtein did not respond to Meduza’s questions prior to publication.

Meduza’s sources close to the Kremlin believe that this will be the piece of legislation that gets adopted in the end, but its form remains unknown. So far, officials in the Putin administration and United Russia have only discussed the “contours” of the bill. 

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Story by Andrey Pertsev

Abridged translation by Eilish Hart

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