European court slams Russia's “gay propaganda” law

June 20, 2017, 11:15am

A top European court has issued a sharply worded rebuke to the Kremlin over its so-called “gay propaganda” law, saying it breaches human rights laws by reinforcing the stigma around homosexuality and encourages homophobia.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued its much-anticipated ruling Tuesday, with the judges flatly rejecting the Russian government’s defense that the law is designed to protect the “morals and health of children.”

“By adopting such laws, the [Russian] authorities reinforce stigma and encourage homophobia, which is incompatible with the notions of equality, pluralism, and tolerance inherent in a democratic society,” the court said.

The case was brought by three Russian activists who were repeatedly arrested for protesting anti-gay laws. The “gay propaganda” law was introduced nationwide in 2013, preventing the sharing of information about homosexuality to people under the age of 18. The Russian government says it will appeal the court’s decision, and now has three months to do so.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Six of the seven judges passed the decision, with only Russian judge Dmitry Dedov dissenting. The judgement said the 2013 law violated the European convention on human rights on freedom of expression (Article 10), and prohibition of discrimination (Article 14). As well as being publicly dressed down by the court, the Kremlin will have to pay damages totallng 43,000 euro ($47,900) plus costs and interest within three months.
  • The Russian government attempted to argue that young people were in danger of being “converted” to homosexuality. The court flatly rejected this thesis, saying the Kremlin’s lawyers had been “unable to provide any explanation of the mechanism by which a minor could be enticed into ‘[a] homosexual lifestyle,’ let alone science-based evidence that one’s sexual orientation or identity was susceptible to change under external influence.”
  • The Russian government has already indicated it will appeal the decision. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Tuesday that he hadn’t seen the wording of the judgement, but he reiterated that the law was there to protect children.
  • All three activists who brought the case — Nikolay Bayev, Aleksey Kiselev, and Nikolay Alekseyev — were arrested for breaching the law by protesting at schools, libraries, and government buildings. They held up signs bearing messages like “Homosexuality is normal,” “I am proud of my homosexuality,” and “Children have the right to know. Great people are also sometimes gay; gay people also become great. Homosexuality is natural and normal.”

While Alekseyev hailed the ECHR’s decision as “an enormous court victory for LGBT people in Russia,” it’s unlikely to materially impact the situation for most gay people in Russia in the near term. While homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, prejudice against the LGBT community remains widespread. Most recently, the security services allegedly organized an anti-gay campaign in the southern republic of Chechnya, where gay men were lured to meetings before being imprisoned and tortured.