(Reuters) – Russian lawmakers have submitted a bill that would impose fines for spreading gay "propaganda" among minors, setting up a tolerance test for the Kremlin-controlled parliament ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration as president.
The bill echoes local laws whose adoption in cities including St. Petersburg has drawn an outcry from human rights and gay activists, who say they could be used to clamp down on the gay community.
It would impose fines of up to 5,000 roubles ($170) on individuals and up to 500,000 roubles ($17,000) on companies for spreading "propaganda of homosexualism" among minors.
Critics say that while ostensibly targeting such actions as the distribution of pornography to children, the broad wording of the laws means they could be used to ban gay rights demonstrations.
U.S. pop singer Madonna has called the law in Putin’s home town St. Petersburg a "ridiculous atrocity" and said she would address the issue during her show in an upcoming tour of Russia.
Homosexuality, punished with jail terms in the Soviet Union, was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay prejudice runs deep and much of the homosexual community remains largely underground.
The Russian Orthodox Church, whose influence has grown since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, speaks out against homosexuality, and gay rights rallies have often ended in arrests and clashes with militant anti-gay activists.
Putin, who has generally advocated tolerance but once criticized gays for failing to help reverse Russia’s population decline, will be inaugurated as president on May 7. He was president from 2000-2008 and is now prime minister.
It was not immediately clear whether Putin’s United Russia party, which holds a majority in the State Duma, would support the bill, which was introduced on Wednesday.
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