Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Russian law on ‘non-traditional sexual relations' is not equivalent to 'Section 28'

It is becoming increasingly common to see the recently enacted federal law of the Russian Federation that prohibits the propaganda of 'non-traditional sexual relations' being compared to the United Kingdom's 'Section 28' of the Local Government Act 1988.

Last week, for example, the actor Simon Callow presented an informative film on the BBC's Daily Politics programme and, in an interview that followed, he made the case that the Russian legislation was very similar to the now repealed Section 28. 

There may be politically expedient or pragmatic reasons to draw comparisons between these laws, but they are hardly equivalent. Section 28 prohibited the 'promotion' of homosexuality by local authorities, with its target firmly on schools and other services. Unlike the Russian federal law it had no relevance to the public speech of private citizens and did not create any prosecutable offence. No legal proceedings - which would have involved a judicial review - were ever successfully brought against a local authority under Section 28.

Hardly anyone, not even those that supported its introduction, would argue that Section 28 was good. But it is important to remember that, even at its most anti-gay, the UK never introduced statutory legislation curtailing general freedom of speech in respect of sexual orientation. Section 28 was, however misguided, an attempt to regulate the education of children and the spending of local authorities. 

Perhaps a better comparison would be between the Russian law and the emergency media ban issued in the late 1980s to prevent the broadcasting of any words spoken by Sinn Fein or the Ulster Defence Association - although, again, this did not relate to all citizens and was limited only to media broadcasts. 

To compare the Russian federal law to Section 28 fails to grasp the serious and far-reaching implications it has for all Russian citizens and their everyday lives. It also fails to acknowledge the profundity of the violations of the human rights protected by the ECHR that it creates. 



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