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Autor: Jade MacEwan
Photo: Queer Geography archive

Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, intends to ask the Russian people to vote for same-sex marriage to be constitutionally banned in a referendum which is planned for next month. The ban on same-sex marriage is part of a wider package of amendments to the Russian constitution included in the referendum, and analysts have said that the proposed ban has been included in order to increase the level of voter interest (New York Times, 2020). Other items in the referendum include codifying faith in God in the constitution and changes relating to the role of President, which should strengthen Putin’s hold on power in Russia (Euro News, 2020).

LGBT+ people in Russia are already very vulnerable, as their rights are continually deteriorating, while discrimination against them increases. There are no legal protections against discrimination and there are regular attacks on LGBT+ people by anti-LGBT+ groups who openly “hunt” gay and bisexual people and activists, as well as extreme persecution in parts of Russia, such as Chechnya (Euro News, 2020). Not only do LGBT+ people in Russia have no legal protections on the basis of their sexual or gender identity, but the law works actively against their rights. With the argument that it would protect the “morals and health of children”, a vague and arbitrary law was passed in 2013 banning so-called “gay propaganda”. The law has served to increase prejudice towards LGBT+ people and is used to further discriminate against and marginalise LGBT+ people in Russia (BBC, 2017). Research conducted by Kondakov (2019) for the Center of Independent Research found that hate crimes towards LGBT+ people in Russia began to increase after this law was implemented and had doubled by 2015.

With LGBT+ rights and attitudes towards LGBT+ people being so dire in Russia, achieving marriage equality is currently far from a priority for activists in this country. In addition, the Russian Family Code already legally defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The proposal to strengthen already existing laws against LGBT+ people in this way will further perpetrate discrimination and persecution against members of this community (Euro News, 2020). So what reason does Putin have to try to implement further discriminatory laws when LGBT+ activists are not currently focusing on trying to gain marriage equality in Russia?

The reason may be that Putin is seeking to strengthen his power and so-called “traditional family values” are a popular topic which create interest in both voters and powerful members of the locally influential Russian Orthodox Church (Euro News, 2020). Putin is constitutionally required to step down as president in the next presidential election, which should take place in 2024. However, the new constitutional proposals provide for a constitutional change to “reset” his time in office, meaning that he could stand for president once again in the next election. The Duma, Russia’s legislative state assembly, have approved the proposals, but they still have to be passed in a public referendum. (The Guardian, 2020).

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who is the highest religious authority in Russia, is strongly against improvement of LGBT+ rights and has stated that same-sex marriage is a threat to family values and “detached from morality” (Time, 2017). The Russian Orthodox Church has become more and more important in state affairs, and Putin publicly seeks advice from church leaders on a regular basis (Financial Times, 2019). 73.2% of the Russian population identify as Orthodox Christians and Orthodoxy forms an important part of the Russian culture and identity.  The Orthodox Church has been promoted as a central part of what is “good” about Russia and the Russian identity since the fall of Communism and this has led to it being viewed by many as an authority on social issues (Upadhyay, 2016). A survey by the state-run polling institution VTsIOM found that in 2015, 80% of Russians were against same-sex marriage, and only 8% supported it, compared to support for same-sex marriage of 14% in 2005 (Moscow Times, 2015). By including the proposal to ban same-sex marriage in the constitutional amendments, it would appear that Putin hopes to appeal to religious and socially conservative public views at the expense of LGBT+ people, in order to try and ensure that the package of amendments are approved by the general public.

The referendum on the constitutional amendments will take place on 22 April, and if the public vote for these amendments, they will be implemented as soon as 25 April (Pink News, 2020).

Links to resources:

BBC News. (2017-06-20). European Court blasts Russia ‘gay propaganda’ law.

Kondakov, A. (2019). The influence of the ‘gay-propaganda’ law on violence against LGBTIQ people in Russia: Evidence from criminal court rulings. European Journal of Criminology, 1477370819887511.

Kramer, A.E. (2020-03-03). Putin Proposes Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage. New York Times.

Litvinova, D. (2015-07-10). Poll Shows Russian Attitudes to Gay People Are Worse Than Decade Ago. The Moscow Times.

Roth, A. (2020-03-10). Putin backs proposal allowing him to remain in power in Russia beyond 2024. (The Guardian).

Seddon, M. (2019-08-22). Putin and the Patriarchs. (Financial Times).

Solomon, F. (2017-05-05). Russia’s Highest Religious Authority Just Compared Gay Marriage to Nazi Germany.

Stern, J. (2020-03-09). Already vulnerable, LGBTIQ people are being used as a pawn in Putin’s latest power play. Euro News.

Upadhyay, A. (2016). Religion and Religiosity in Russia: An Overview. International Studies, 53(3-4), 195-209.

Wakefield, L. (2020-03-03). Vladimir Putin is trying to literally erase the existence of same-sex marriage from Russian law.

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