MOSCOW -- Russia's State Duma has passed legislation that imposes harsh fines and jail terms for the distribution of homosexual "propaganda" to minors.
The legislation, adopted on June 11 by a vote of 436 to 0, has been criticized by rights defenders as a way to oppress homosexuals amid rising homophobia in Russia. It bans the distribution to minors by Russians, foreign citizens, and media organizations of "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations."
Yelena Mizulina, head of the Russian State Duma's Committee for Family, Women, and Children, was the coauthor of the bill. She said in the State Duma during debate on the bill that the legislation is a special law that aims to protect Russian children from information that rejects "traditional family values."
"[The bill prohibits] the spreading of information aimed at forming nontraditional sexual attitudes among children, attractiveness of nontraditional sexual relations, or a distorted perception of social equality between traditional and nontraditional sexual relations," she said. "Secondly, [it prohibits] the imposition of information about nontraditional sexual relations that may cause interest in them among children."
Fines for breaking the law can be up to 1million rubles, or about $31,000.
Earlier on June 11, as the legislation awaited its final reading, police were deployed to break up clashes in front of the State Duma between gay-rights advocates and Christian activists.
PHOTO GALLERY: Gay-rights activists, Orthodox believers clash
One rights activists, Marta, said the new legislation violates the principle of equal rights for all citizens.
"Of course, I will never support this law because this law basically outlaws a certain group of people," she said. "This law divides people into equals and unequals so that same-sex couples automatically fall into a category of abnormal people."
But a demonstrator who supports the legislation, Vladislav, described homosexuality as a phenomenon that contradicts moral values.
"We are against the homosexual lobby in our country," he said. "I am here because I am against it. I am against homosexuals as a phenomenon, not only in Russia, but in the rest of the world."
At least 20 rights activists and several antigay demonstrators were detained during the clashes.
The legislation now faces a vote by the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, and must be signed by President Vladimir Putin to go into force.
Russia's human rights commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, said earlier on June 11 that "unwise application" of the legislation could lead to "human casualties and human tragedies."
With reporting by Interfax, RIA Novosti, AFP, and Reuters