Disturbing news out of Russia today, where the Associated Press reports that the State Duma -- the lower house of that country's parliament -- has just passed a draconian law banning so-called "gay propaganda" in a unanimous vote:
The lower house of Russia's parliament has overwhelmingly passed a bill that stigmatises the gay community and bans the distribution of information about homosexuality to children.
The State Duma voted 434-0 with one abstention to approve the Kremlin-backed legislation, which imposes hefty fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors.
The bill still must be approved by the upper house of parliament, known as the Federation Council of Russia, and be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. However, according to the AP report, "neither step is in doubt."
The law makes it a criminal offense to say that gay relationships are equal to non-gay relationships and levies fines to individuals who promote LGBT equality. According to the Russian LGBT Network, the measure gives the state the power to shut down LGBT rights organizations and fine them up to 1,000,000 rubles; the group also notes that fines for spreading so-called "gay propaganda" would be hundreds of times harsher than the penalties in place for Nazi propaganda, which under current law is punishable by a fine of up to 2,000 rubles.
Russia's federal anti-gay law is modeled on a law passed last year in the Russian city of St. Petersburg that outlaws any kind of public expression of LGBT identity, LGBT pride, or support for the LGBT community by declaring it "gay propaganda." Violators of the St. Petersburg law can be fined up to 500,000 rubles or even be thrown in jail for up to 15 days.
Protesters took to the streets of Moscow today as passage of the bill loomed. Various news outlets report that the demonstators, many of whom staged a kiss-in to protest the government silencing their relationships, were pelted with rotten eggs and bundles of nettles by an angry Russian Orthodox mob who sang prayers, chanted "Russia is not Sodom," shouted obscenities and homophobic slurs, and crossed themselves. Police arrested many of the pro-LGBT demonstrators, and some who escaped detention were viciously beaten by masked men on a nearby street.
In an indication of Russia's violently homophobic climate, a Reuters photographer snapped a photo (right) of a gang of Russian schoolboys kicking a gay rights activist on the ground.
Graeme Reid, LGBT program director at Human Rights Watch, condemned the law:
"Russia is trying very hard to make discrimination look respectable by calling it 'tradition,' but whatever term is used in the bill, it remains discrimination and a violation of the basic human rights of LGBT people. To try to exclude LGBT people as 'non-traditional' is to try and make them less than human. It is cynical, and it is dangerous."
Watch the protests:
And some of the homophobic Russian Orthodox counter-demonstrators: