The Russian government is coming to take your children away. At least, if you happen to be a gay parent in Russia and if a suggested law by Alexei Zhuravlev passes. Zhuravlev, deputy of Russia’s lower legislative house, has put forth a bill that would make being gay grounds for denying custody of even one’s genetic children.
Zhuravlev told Slon magazine, “Since we have a law explicitly prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality among minors, if a husband or a wife professes a non-traditional sexual orientation they should be deprived of their parental rights.” Zhuravlev’s proposed amendment to Russia’s Family Code reads: “If one of the child’s parents indulges in sexual contact with persons of the same sex, the damage to the child’s psyche is immense.”
Zhuravlev is head of the nationalist Rodina (“Motherland”) party, unanimously elected to the position after Rodina was reinstated last year. Zhuravlev has been a vocal critic of gay rights and an outspoken supporter of other recent anti-gay laws. Currently, the Family Code lists drug addiction, violent behavior, and serious mental illness as the grounds for denying custody.
To buttress his claims, Zhuravlev cited research by University of Texas associate professor Mark Regnerus. Regnerus’ study, published last year, was trumpeted by anti-gay groups who claimed that his findings indicated that, among other difficulties, the children of same-sex couples are more likely to suffer from depression, more likely to be sexually molested, more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections later in life, and more likely to develop substance abuse problems.
But Regnerus’ methods and findings have been criticized by other researchers, as have the conclusions reached by outside groups when interpreting the data. As the American Psychiatric Association noted in a brief filed in the DOMA hearings this year, the study only looked at subjects who had at least one parent who had had at least one romantic encounter with a person of the same sex, rather than specifically at kids raised full-time by gay couples.
An editor of Social Science Research, the journal which originally published it, audited the Regnerus study and called it “bullshit” (in those words), saying that careful reading of the data reavaled that almost none of the subjects were actually raised by the parent designated gay. (Regnerus was, however, cleared of charges of scientific misconduct last year.)
Still, the Russian zeitgeist largely associates being gay with mental illness and pedophilia, stoking support for measures like Zhuravlev’s. A poll by a state agency just this week found that 51 percent of Russians would not want to have a gay coworker or neighbor “under any circumstances.”
Nicole Butkovich Kraus, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained in an op-ed this week that, “Given that homosexuality is conflated with pedophilia, the urgency to protect the young forbids dissent.” When other nations criticize such policies, that just makes things worse, Butkovich Kraus explains: “Attacks feed the nationalist claim that Russia is a victim: No one respects Russia or its right to self-govern.”
Indeed, Zhuravlev did circle the wagons against the west when speaking to Slon: “Europe must not tell us how to live. The Europeans can live any way they like, but they mustn’t tell us what to do.”
Prominent Russian gay rights advocate Nikolai Alexeyev, himself a vocal critic of Russia’s right to resist perceived undue outside influence, said that he does not think the bill will pass or that President Putin will sign it. Putin insists in recent interviews that Russia is not a homophobic country and that his government has “perfectly normal” relations with the LGBT community.