Russia's lower house of Parliament passed a bill Tuesday that bans the promotion of homosexual "propaganda" and mandates stiff fines and jail terms for violators in what critics fear will lead to antigay repression.
The 436-0 vote came just after the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, passed another bill providing jail terms and fines for anyone convicted of insulting religious feelings.
That one was proposed after the punk music group Pussy Riot performed an anti-Kremlin stunt in Moscow's main cathedral in 2011.
Both measures fit into a series of Kremlin-backed steps in recent months that seem aimed at shoring up President Vladimir Putin's support with his traditionalist supporters.
The bill banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations," makes it a crime to hold gay pride events, speak in defense of gay rights or to say gay relationships are equal to heterosexual ones. Although ostensibly intended to protect minors, the bill is written so broadly that in effect it amounts to an outright ban.
The bill now goes to the upper house, the Federation Council, where it has strong support, and then to Mr. Putin, who is expected to sign it into law.
Homosexuality was illegal during Soviet times but was illegal during Soviet times but was decriminalized in 1993.
"Traditional sexual relations are relations between a man and a woman," one of the bill's authors, Yelena Mizulina, told lawmakers. "These relations need special protection."
International rights groups have decried the measure, calling it discriminatory and a dangerous precedent.
"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 homosexuals, said Graeme Reid of Human Rights Watch. "It is cynical, and it is dangerous."
Before the vote, about 20 gay-rights activists were taken into custody after holding a "kissing protest" outside the parliament building. They were met by a much-larger group of antigay protesters who chanted "Russia is not Sodom" and sang Orthodox Christian prayers.
In a recent survey by the state-run Vtsiom polling center, 88% of respondents said they agreed with the ban. A poll by the independent Levada Center in May found that 47% of Russians thought that gays should not enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. A poll by the independent Levada Center in May found that 47% of Russians thought that gays should not enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals.
During an April visit to Amsterdam, Mr. Putin said that he considered it "necessary to defend the rights of sexual minorities," but that Russian public opinion must be respected.
"Can you imagine an organization promoting pedophilia in Russia? I think people in many Russian regions would have started to take up arms," he said, according to state-run news service Ria-Novosti. "The same is true for sexual minorities: I can hardly imagine same-sex marriages being allowed in Chechnya. Can you imagine it? It would have resulted in human casualties," he added.
Similar laws have been passed in several Russian cities and regions, including St. Petersburg, but the new law would apply nationwide.
The pop star Madonna was hit with a lawsuit last year following a performance in St. Petersburg during which she spoke out in defense of gay rights. The suit was later thrown out.
In another case that has drawn criticism from the West, three members of the Pussy Riot group were convicted last August on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred following their stunt in the cathedral. Two of them remain in jail.
The new bill passed by the Duma passed by the Dumaconcerning insulting religious freedom provides for jail terms of up to three years and fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($15,400).