Russia's national government has launched a criminal investigation of social workers who allowed a gay couple to adopt children, in a case that represents a new use of the country's infamous "gay propaganda" law.
The nation's Investigative Committee, the primary investigating authority of the federal government, announced Wednesday that it is looking into the case of Moscow social welfare officials who allowed a gay man "cohabiting with another man" to adopt two boys in 2010, according to The Moscow Times, an independent (not state-run) Russian newspaper.
The officials, who have not been publicly identified, did not "take appropriate measures to protect minors from information harmful to their health and development," said a statement released by the committee. They could face fines and other penalties.
Russia has no law banning adoption by same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals within the country, as there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships (it bans adoption by people from countries with marriage equality). But in this case, the nation has launched the investigation under the "gay propaganda" law, enacted in 2013, which prohibits exposing minors to any positive depiction of "nontraditional" sexuality.
The man who adopted the children "promotes non-traditional relationships, forming distorted ideas about family values in children" and "harming their health and moral and spiritual development," the Investigative Committee said. He and his partner are not yet under investigation, but they could face criminal charges as well.
Also, if the social workers are found guilty, "it could give the state the opportunity to demand the annulment of the adoption," Maksim Olenichev, a lawyer with Vykhod (Coming Out), a St. Petersburg-based LGBTQ support group, told Agence France-Presse. The case is "the next twist" in application of the propaganda law, which has been used primarily to cancel Pride events, noted Olenichev, who has been talking to the family about representing them. They are currently traveling outside Russia and not speaking to the media.
The Russian authorities found out the boys were living with a gay couple after one of them, age 12, was taken to a Moscow hospital with stomach pains, German publication Deutsche Welle reports. The youth told the doctor he lives with two fathers, and the doctor called police.
The other boy is 14, and the two of them feel "comfortable and safe in the family," Olenichev told Deutsche Welle. The family is financially secure, as one of the fathers works at a university, and a grandmother and a nanny assist with the boys' care, he said.
Prejudice against LGBTQ people is rampant in Russia, although a recent survey did show acceptance increasing somewhat. Just this week, Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house of Russia's Parliament, said that allowing same-sex couples to adopt children would "simply lead to the extinction of humanity," according to the Interfax news agency.
But another government official, Irina Kirkova, executive secretary of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, expressed support for the gay fathers in this case, Interfax reports. Children in Russia are often brought up exclusively by women -- a mother along with grandmothers or aunts -- and that's no different from being brought up by a same-sex couple, she said. "What happens behind closed doors at their home is their business," she added.
The propaganda law was dealt a blow by the European Court of Human Rights this week. By refusing to let three LGBTQ groups -- Rainbow House, Movement for Marriage Equality, and Sochi Pride House -- register as legal entities, the Russian government violated their right to freedom of association and discriminated based on members' sexual orientation, the court ruled, Pink News reports. The government had cited the propaganda law in its defense.
The court ordered Russia to pay a fine of EUR42,500 (approximately US$48,000). This was the third LGBTQ rights case Russia had lost at the court since 2017, Pink News notes. The court has little enforcement authority, but LGBTQ activists nonetheless welcomed this week's decision as an important precedent.