MOSCOW Russian police detained 20 gay rights campaigners and militant Orthodox Christian activists Friday near the country's parliament as it overwhelmingly backed a bill that would ban "homosexual propaganda."
Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted 388-1-1 for the law that makes public events and dissemination of information on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community to minors punishable by fines of up to $16,000. After two more readings, the bill will have to be signed by President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier Friday, three dozen LGBT rights campaigners gathered near the State Duma to protest the law, while militant Orthodox activists started assaulting and pelting them with eggs. Police intervened, but mostly detained the LGBT campaigners.
At a similar rally Tuesday, Orthodox activists violently assaulted and beat up LGBT campaigners, who had gathered to kiss each other in protest against the planned legislation.
Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobia remains high in the country. Authorities often ban gay rallies and parades.
Those behind the bill say minors need to be protected from "homosexual propaganda" because they are unable to evaluate the information critically.
"This propaganda goes through the mass media and public events that propagate homosexuality as normal behavior," the bill reads.
The bill has been hailed by public figures and Russia's dominant Orthodox church. It is widely seen as part of an official drive to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting the youth and by extension contributing to a wave of protest against Putin's rule.
Some lawmakers and public figures have accused gays of contributing to the fall in Russia's already low birth rates, and have argued that they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled.
An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, and that their hearts should be burned or buried after death.
According to opinion polls last year by the respected Levada Center, almost two thirds of Russians find homosexuality "morally unacceptable and worth condemning." And about half were found to be against gay rallies and same-sex marriage, while almost a third thought homosexuality is the result of "a sickness or a psychological trauma."