ASTANA -- Kazakhstan has put the brakes on proposed antigay legislation that threatened to derail its dream of hosting the Winter Olympics.
The bill, which mirrored Russia's controversial law banning so-called gay propaganda and had already passed both houses of the Kazakh parliament, was recently shot down by a panel vetting the legislation's constitutionality.
The Constitutional Council announced on May 26 that it rejected the bill last week on the grounds that it contained "vague and ambiguous definitions and terms."
The rare rejection left it unclear whether the bill is effectively dead, could be sent back to parliament for revision, or revived after the fact, providing Kazakhstan is chosen to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
When the bill was first proposed in August by the lower house of parliament, or Mazhilis, it was sold as a means of protecting children by banning the dissemination of "propaganda of homosexuality among minors." After clearing the Mazhilis, it was approved by the upper house in February.
The proposal attracted negative attention just as Kazakhstan was trying to generate excitement over Almaty's bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Almaty.
The same day that the constitutional ruling was announced, Kazakhstan reportedly attracted millions to the streets of major cities to celebrate Olympics Day, sponsored by the state in order to support Almaty 2022. Beijing, China -- widely considered to be the favorite to win the bid -- is the only other potential host left in the running.
International human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have condemned the bill.
Earlier this month, a group of former Olympic, Paralympic, and professional athletes sent a letter to International Olympic Committee(IOC) President Thomas Bach expressing their concerns.
The letter campaign was organized by Athlete Ally, a group that fights for gay athletes' rights. Diver Greg Louganis, tennis player Martina Navratilova, hockey player Sean Avery, soccer players Megan Rapinoe and Robbie Rogers and other prominent athletes signed the letter.
"In light of Kazakhstan’s aspirations to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games and their recent consideration of legislation prohibiting 'propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientation,' we urge the IOC to reiterate to Kazakh authorities that discrimination with regard to sexual orientation is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement," the letter said.
According to the May 26 announcement, the Constitutional Committee rejected the bill on May 18, just days after the athletes' letter was sent.
Although Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics decriminalized homosexuality in the early 1990s, hostility against gays and lesbians remains rife there and across other post-Soviet states.
Russia's law banning so-called gay propaganda was adopted in 2013, putting the legislation in the spotlight when the country hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
The Kyrgyz parliament is currently considering similar legislation.
The IOC is expected to announce the winning bidder for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Kuala Lumpur on July 31.