As we saw during their awkward “Bachelorette”-style greeting at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, President Obama literally stands head and shoulders above the diminutive Russian President Vladimir Putin. But this is also figuratively the case when you compare the two men and their treatment of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens.
Just as the United States is expanding the reach of the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, Russia is hell bent on denying protection to its LGBT people. Take what happened yesterday. In Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that legally married same-sex couples would be eligible for veterans benefits. In Moscow, Alekei Zhuravlev, the deputy of the Russian State Duma, proposed an amendment that would deny parental custody to gay parents.
Each nation is riding a particular wave of momentum. The Supreme Court ruling in June that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional set off a series of decisions that make same-sex couples whole in the eyes of the federal government. Meanwhile, Putin signed into law a bill passed unanimously in June by the Duma that banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” the definition of which is so broad and vague that the lives of LGBT Russians and tourists have been deemed illegal. A few days later, Putin signed legislation banning the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples from nations that have adopted marriage equality. This prohibition applies to heterosexual couples and single adults from countries recognizing same-sex marriages.
Obama is due to visit today with LGBT groups in St. Petersburg. Good for him. And good for them. They’ll get to see what a real leader looks like.
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