On Thursday, Russian MPs approved unanimously account which bans all forms of what the authorities consider LGBTQ “propaganda” in media, cinema, books and advertising. The bill also bans Russians from promoting or “glorifying” homosexual relationships or publicly suggesting that they are “normal.”
Human rights groups have warned that if the bill is signed by President Vladimir Putin and goes into effect – which they say is all but guaranteed – it will mark yet another case of persecution facing the LGBT community in Russia amid a major retreat in recent years.
Below, the latest on what the Russian parliament voted on and what’s next.
What does the ‘gay propaganda’ bill say?
The new “gay propaganda” bill expands on existing legislation passed by the Kremlin in 2013 to promote “traditional” family values in Russia. The 2013 law prohibits showing images of homosexuality, same-sex unions and “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. The new bill would extend those restrictions to all ages.
The bill also bans what authorities describe as “propaganda of pedophilia and gender reassignment.” Although the concept of propaganda is loosely defined in the bill, it strictly prohibits the use of any media to disseminate related information.
“It’s basically a total ban on being LGBT+ in Russia,” said Dilya Gafurova, head of the Sphere Foundation, a Russian LGBT+ organization based in St. Petersburg.
When is the new law expected to come into force?
On Thursday, the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, approved the bill on its third and final reading. The bill will now have to be approved by the Federation Council or the upper house of parliament. From there it will go to Putin, whose signature will give it legal force.
Gafurova, Russia’s LGBT advocate, expects Putin to sign it into law as early as December this year or January 2023, describing the process so far as “rushed.” “In Russia, this usually means that the legislature is as good as it is passed at this stage,” she said, due to the passage of the law in the Duma on Thursday.
Read more: Russian activists have just won an important battle for LGBTQ rights. But the war is far from over
What consequences will the Russian LGBTQ community face?
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, said on social media that “any propaganda of non-traditional relations will have consequences.”
Although the bill does not make violations a criminal offense, they will be punishable by fines of 100,000 to 2 million rubles ($1,660-$33,000). Foreign nationals who commit certain offenses can also be expelled from Russia after 15 days of detention.
Gafurova says that while the previous law was rarely used against individuals – and was mostly applied against websites or individual protesters who did not speak – it will now allow authorities to launch a “witch hunt”. This will have other far-reaching consequences, she adds: “It has complicated our lives because the wording is so vague that it can be used in an arbitrary way.”
Some lawmakers have also shown support for a separate bill that would make any so-called “gay propaganda” a criminal offense. According to to the Associated Press.
Where do LGBTQ rights stand in Russia?
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia and discrimination are still rife. The country is today ranked 46 out of 49 for LGBTQ inclusion in European countries by the monitoring body ILGA-Europe.
In 2020, Russia explicitly banned same-sex marriage in the country’s constitution, passing amendments that state that the institution of marriage is a “union between a man and a woman.”
Putin, who is closely associated with the Orthodox Church, has publicly rejected same-sex relationships. In speeches delivered in the Kremlin, he also opposed same-sex marriage and the parentage of such couples. “Do we really want here, in our country, in Russia, instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ to have ‘parent number one’, ‘parent number two’ or ‘parent number three’?” he said in September. “Have they gone completely mad?”
LGBTQ advocates in Russia have reported many cases of hatred and violence against the community. Pride events previously held in St. Petersburg and Moscow were marked by state violence and arrests, while an increase in the number of attacks against LGBTQ people across Russia — both by individuals and organized homophobic groups — increased after the 2013 law, according to 2014. report published by Human Rights Watch.
Public sentiment also reflects low tolerance for LGBTQ identification: in a global survey conducted by Ipsos in April and May 2021, 52% of respondents in Russia are against same-sex marriage.
Gafurova of the Sphere Foundation says she has met broad support for the newly adopted bill. “It’s very depressing for us, but it’s in line with traditional ideas of family values in Russia,” she says.
Read more: Russia’s anti-gay laws: how a Dutch activist was targeted
How are human rights defenders reacting to this law?
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia’s “gay propaganda law” was discriminatory, promoted homophobia and violated the European Convention on Human Rights, and that it “does not serve a legitimate public interest.” The court rejected suggestions that public debate on LGBTQ issues could influence children to become homosexual or that it threatened public morality.
Meanwhile, the Sphere Foundation says it will continue to urge Russian citizens and lawmakers to prevent the law from taking effect by national and global petitions – so far nearly 120,000 people have signed the petitions online, including over 83,000 Russians. They will also continue to provide virtual support to the LGBTQ community.
“We wanted to at least try to give people hope,” says Gafurova.
More must-reads from TIME