The Deal on the Russian Anti-Homosexual Law

August 12, 2013

Laura Mills of the Associated Press has a useful Q&A on Russia’s new law regulating the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors” that was recently signed by President Putin.  For all the sound and fury surrounding this law among Western cosmopolitans, all this law does is impose (in theory, because it hasn’t yet been enforced or applied) a small financial penalty for individuals ($150) and large one for organizations ($30K) who violate this law.  This is not to defend the law or the sentiment behind it, but it pales in comparison to anti-homosexual laws in Belize – where homosexual sex can land someone in prison for ten years – and Uganda, where a bill that might soon become law would penalize homosexuals with death or life imprisonment.  Indeed, 38 out of 53 African countries have criminalized consensual homosexual sex.  Why are we more outraged about Russia than these other countries?

There will be strong pressure on the Obama Administration to make this an issue for U.S.-Russian relations, but this would be a major misstep.   As Sean Kay has pointed out on WOTR, there are bigger issues that should occupy our relationship with Russia: nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, pressuring Iran to abandon its nuclear goals, and pushing the various combatants in Syria toward a political settlement.  We should not allow second and third-order concerns to obstruct our pursuit of these goals.  Practically speaking, any official U.S. condemnation of this law could not conceivably lead to the Federal Assembly or the Kremlin seeking to lift the law.  American condemnations of anti-liberal practices in Russia tend to only harden those practices.

Moreover, to make this law a major issue between the U.S. and Russia would hand the Kremlin an easy international PR victory in those parts of the world that still view homosexuality as a negative and/or sinful practice, such as much of Africa and the Middle East.

President Obama should not allow an odious but minor piece of legislation that has yet to be enforced infect an already sickly bi-lateral relationship.

Ryan Evans is the Editor-in-Chief of War on the Rocks.