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Russia's foreign minister defends anti-gay bill

Tuesday - 2/26/2013, 7:38am  ET

NATALIYA VASILYEVA
Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday rejected criticism from the Dutch government and the European Union about proposed legislation that would outlaw "homosexual propaganda."

Responding to Dutch assertions that the legislation may be contrary to Russia's international obligations, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there were no such obligations.

"We don't have a single international or common European commitment to allow propaganda of homosexuality," he said.

Russia's lower house of parliament on Jan. 25 voted to support a bill that makes public events and dissemination of information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000. The bill still requires the parliament's and the president's final approval.

Lavrov spoke at a news conference with Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, who on Feb. 1 had urged Russia not to put the bill into law and said he would raise the issue with Lavrov.

"Discrimination against homosexuals is unacceptable. Gay rights are human rights and Russia must adhere to its international obligations," Timmermans had said, calling on the Russian parliament not to approve the bill.

At the news conference, Timmermans said he and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton believe that the legislation "could infringe on fundamental rights."

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia remains strong in the country. Authorities routinely ban gay rallies and parades.

Those behind the bill say minors need to be protected from "homosexual propaganda" because they are unable to evaluate the information critically.

Lavrov insisted on Tuesday that since homosexuality was decriminalized, gays have enjoyed full rights in Russia and "can go about their business absolutely freely and unpunished."

But Russia "has its own moral, religious and historical values," Lavrov said, warning against "another kind of discrimination when one group of citizens gets the right to aggressively promote their own values that run against those shared by the majority of the society and impose them on children."

The bill has drawn opposition from many Russians. Activists rallied outside the parliament building protesting the bill while several leading Russian magazines dedicated their latest issues to the problems that homosexuals face in Russia.

The Afisha bi-weekly ran the rainbow flag on its cover along with a dozen of double-spread profiles of Russians, from trendy journalists to utilities workers, speaking openly about their homosexuality.

The bill is backed by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party which holds a majority in the parliament so opponents' chances of blocking the legislation are slim. The parliament is going to discuss amendments to the bill until late May, making its passage before June highly unlikely.


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