Moscow (AFP) -
Russian lawmakers unanimously approved a bill banning all forms of LGBTQ 'propaganda' in a final reading Thursday, as Moscow presses ahead with its conservative drive at home while its troops fight in Ukraine.
Activists said the new legislation ramps up the crackdown on 'non-traditional' sexual relationships in Russia, affecting everything from books and films to social media posts. They have vowed to keep fighting for the rights of minorities.
President Vladimir Putin has sought to promote his country as the antithesis of Western liberal values, pushing an increasingly conservative agenda to rally his core constituency amid heightened tension with the world's top democracies.
Moscow already has a law against 'propaganda' directed at minors regarding LGBTQ relationships. The new bill would broaden that rule to adults.
The legislation passed by the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Thursday bars all mention of what authorities deem 'gay propaganda' in media, cinema, books and advertisements.
It also prohibits 'the propaganda of paedophilia and sex change'.
'Any propaganda of non-traditional relationships will have consequences,' the speaker of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said on social media.
The bill 'will protect our children and the future of our country from the darkness spread by the US and European states', he added.
The legislation still needs to be backed by the upper house and Putin before becoming law, but those steps are seen as a formality.
The bill introduces fines of up to 10 million rubles ($165,400) for people who ignore the new ban.
- 'Absurd law' -
Rights groups, who say the legislation will effectively ban all public promotion of LGBTQ rights in Russia, have vowed to keep up the fight.
'We plan on protecting people from this absurd law,' said Natalia Soloviova, chairperson of the Russian LGBT Network organisation.
'LGBTQ people are not leaving, they still need our help and support,' she told AFP.
The exact consequences of the new legislation are still unclear, and rights activists warned that it could be applied indiscriminately.
Soloviova said she and other activists expected 'more pressure on activists, an increase in the number of blocked websites... and widespread censorship in the media, movie and other industries'.
Russia has sought to present LGBTQ relationships as a product of dangerous Western influence, toughening its rhetoric as Moscow presses its military campaign in Ukraine.
Dilya Gafurova, the head of LGBTQ rights group Sphere Foundation, said it was especially 'disturbing that the state is saying LGBT+ people are a Western invention'.
She warned of the possible effects of the 'demonisation of an entire group'.
On Thursday, the European Union also expressed its concern.
'These legislative developments fuel homophobia and further deepen the harsh repression of any critical and alternative discourse in the context of Russia?s illegal, unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine...,' it said in a statement.
The law will enable the authorities to block websites that contain prohibited information. The Duma said it would also be able to ban 'the sale of goods (including foreign ones) containing prohibited information'.
- 'Nothing wrong with us' -
Russian film production companies and book publishers have also expressed concern over the bill, saying it could result in the banning of classics such as Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita', about a middle-aged businessman's obsession with a 12-year-old girl.
The Duma said 'films that promote such relationships will not receive a distribution certificate'.
Senior lawmakers had previously said the bill was needed in the context of Russia's offensive in Ukraine.
Gafurova urged the authorities not to use the LGBTQ community 'as an instrument of ideological confrontation'.
'We just are. There is nothing wrong with us and nothing that needs to be hushed up,' she said, adding that it was impossible 'to take our voice away'.
Putin, who turned 70 this year, has repeatedly railed against same-sex parents.
'Do we really want here, in our country, in Russia, instead of 'mum' and 'dad', to have 'parent number one', 'parent number two' or 'parent number three'?' he said in speech at the Kremlin in September.
'Have they gone completely insane?'