Top Russian cleric seeks nationwide referendum on criminalizing male homosexuality

RT- 11/1/13

Vsevolod Chaplin maintains that gay relations between men pose a threat to the whole of society, but left it for the people to decide on the possible punishment for such actions.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for  relations with society has said in an official press comment that  the question of criminalizing male homosexuality “deserved  discussion in society without any doubt.” He added that  since Russia is a democratic country, the majority of its people  and not some “external forces” must decide what  constitutes a criminal offence and what does not.

The cleric explained that public attitudes to homosexuality have  varied at different times and in different societies, but the  most widespread position was to treat such relations as a crime.  Chaplin said he was convinced that male homosexual relations must  be completely ruled out by society, but also noted that it was  better to achieve this through moral persuasion. “If we have  to draw the law into this, let us ask the people if they are  ready for this,” Chaplin stated, suggesting the question of  criminalizing gay male contact be posed in a nationwide  referendum.

The comment came shortly after a scandal initiated by former  Orthodox priest, actor, scriptwriter, showman and would-be  politician, Ivan Okhlobystin. The man, who is currently working  as a creative director for a mobile retailer, tweeted an open  letter to President Vladimir Putin, in which he asked to  reinstate punishment for male homosexuality in the criminal code,  through initiating a referendum on the issue. He also doubted the  effectiveness of the fresh legislative ban on gay propaganda to  minors and claimed that the very existence of officially  registered gay communities insulted believers’ feelings.

The open letter tweet was deleted after some time but the  initiative gained support in the form of an official petition  created on a governmental site. LGBT activists replied with their  own internet letter, calling for Okhlobystin’s employer to sack  the controversial figure and asking the CEO of the Apple  corporation, Tim Cook, to review the contracts with the company  the former priest works for.

Top managers at the company Okhlobystin works for first refrained  from comments, but eventually told reporters that as he was  expressing his own private opinion and was not calling for actual  violence, they intended to take no action against him. They argue  they don’t want to tarnish their image by suppressing his right  to freedom of speech.

Comments from various Russian politicians and public figures  followed, but they often concentrated not on the problem of gay  rights but on Okhlobystin’s personality, noting that he is known  for relentless attempts to draw attention to himself, and all his  statements should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

MP Pavel Krasheninnikov, from the majority United Russia party,  who heads the Lower House committee for civil, criminal,  arbitrage and procedural legislation bluntly called Okhlobystin’s  letter a PR stunt, and pointed out that Russian laws already  provide necessary protection against sexual violence and against  promotion of non-traditional values among minors.

The chairman of the Russian LGBT network, Igor Kochetkov, blasted  Okhlobystin and the Orthodox Church in press comments saying that  the referendum suggestion was both legally wrong and immoral. He  also likened calls to restore criminal punishment for male  homosexuality to Russian legislation to the idea of reinstalling  concentration camps for Jews in Germany.

Kochetkov noted that the inviolability of personal life was  guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, and the suggested  referendum could not be held as it directly contradicted that  basic law.

Another Prominent Russian gay activist, Nikolay Alekseyev, also  called the former priest’s letter an exercise in attention  seeking, and added that there was no possibility of realizing  Okhlobystin’s suggestion because Russia is a member of the  Council of Europe and has signed international conventions on  minorities’ rights. “If such a law is passed it would mean  automatic expulsion from leading international organizations, and  Russia would never allow this, considering the close relations  between Russia and the West,” Alekseyev told RSN radio.

The Criminal Code of the Soviet Union contained an article  ordering homosexual contacts between men to be punished with up  to five years in prison (eight years with aggravating conditions  such as rape). The article was abolished in 1993.

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