Russian constitution change ends hopes for gay marriage

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Hopes vanished on July 1, when voters backed a slate of constitutional amendments, one of them stating marriage is only between a man and a woman.

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — At the Lagutenko wedding in 2017, the couple exchanged vows, rings and kisses in front of friends and relatives, then took a traditional drive in a limousine, stopping at landmarks for photos.

But because they were both women, the wedding wasn’t legal in Russia.

If Irina and Anastasia Lagutenko had any hopes they could someday officially be married in their homeland, the possibility vanished on July 1 when voters approved a package of constitutional amendments, one of them stipulating that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Unlike many LGBTQ people in Russia who keep low profiles because of pervasive enmity against nontraditional sexuality, they live openly as a same-sex couple with a 21-month-old boy, named Dorian, who was born to Irina.

They lack, and probably never will receive, those rights accorded to heterosexual couples. They won’t be allowed to refuse to testify against their partner in court, they won’t automatically inherit from each other, and they can’t see each other in hospitals that only allow visits by family members. Anastasia is not a legal guardian for Dorian and can’t become one.

“I want to have the same legal rights for the child,” Anastasia told The Associated Press as Dorian played in her lap in their apartment.

“I planned this child. We went all the way of the pregnancy and the childbirth together, and now, I am 100 percent, 200 percent involved in the process of upbringing, and I consider him mine,” she said.

Although Russia decriminalized homosexuality decades ago, animosity against gays remains high. In 2012, the Moscow city government ordered that gay pride parades be banned for the next 100 years. The following year, the parliament unanimously passed a law forbidding “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships” among minors.

Attacks on the gay community persist. Last summer, the murder of Yelena Grigoryeva, an LGBTQ activist in St. Petersburg, made national headlines. Dozens of other activists received death threats from an obscure anti-gay group that claimed responsibility for the killing of Grigoryeva, who was stabbed repeatedly and showed signs of strangulation.

In 2017, reports of extrajudicial arrests, torture and killings of gay men in the republic of Chechnya drew international condemnation.

Last year, Andrei Vaganov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, a couple raising two adopted children, had to flee Russia after a doctor reported them to police and authorities opened a criminal case. Adoption by same-sex couples is banned in Russia, but Vaganov had applied as a single father.

Max Olenichev, a lawyer with the Coming Out gay rights group, said there are instances of tolerance by some courts. He said he has worked on seven custody cases in which judges refused to take away custody, saying that sexual orientation doesn’t play a role in a child’s upbringing.

But he is concerned that the constitutional changes will encourage anti-gay views.

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