The Duma voted 338 to 1 for the bill, which requires two more readings. One of the 450 deputies abstained, and 52 avoided voting. A member of the ruling United Russia party justified his “yes” vote thus: “We live in Russia, not Sodom and Gomorrah.”
The national bill follows the passage of similar laws in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk and three other cities, tapping into an ideology promoted by President Vladimir Putin and his circle that combines anti-Westernism, Russian exceptionalism and conservative Orthodox religious beliefs.
“This is part of a concentrated effort by the Russian authorities to create a new political cleavage between the conservative, pro-Putin majority and the more liberal, pro-Western minority,” Grigory Golosov, project director for the Center for Democracy and Human Rights Helix in St. Petersburg, said by telephone Tuesday. “They have to invent issues around which such a cleavage can be manufactured.”
In the long run, that could prove a challenge for Putin, said Golosov, adding that history shows it is difficult to manufacture such a rupture. But in the short term, there is no doubt the anti-gay law will pass.
As for the plight of sexual minorities here, Golosov described it as “collateral damage.” Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but a poll by the independent Levada Center in August reported that 62 percent of respondents found it morally unacceptable.
When Kolmanovsky, who is also a science writer, joined the protest Friday, he came upon about 20 gay rights advocates and many more supporters of the anti-gay bill. Some same-sex protesters were kissing, and a group of Orthodox activists, some masked, were singing hymns and harassing them.
Police carted off 15 from the kiss-in group and five of the others, Kolmanovsky said. “I was evasive, and they didn’t take me.”
That left him pretty much alone amid a threatening crowd shouting homophobic epithets at him. Some told him that people could become gay by seeing same-sex couples kissing or by hearing that gays had equal rights or were as normal as straight people. Kolmanovsky was there to offer a scientific argument that sexual orientation is determined in the womb or soon after. They were reluctant to listen.