Russian Caravan: Religious Right Groups Latch Onto Nation’s Extreme Anti-Gay Laws

A faction within the Religious Right has put aside its historical distrust of the former 'evil empire' to lavish praise on the country’s efforts to curtail the gay rights movement.

Russia’s harsh new anti-gay laws have drawn global outcry – but they’re also receiving support from some unexpected quarters. A faction within the Religious Right has put aside its historical distrust of the former “evil empire” to lavish praise on the country’s efforts to curtail the gay rights movement.

The Advocate reports that six American organizations have joined an international coalition of far-right groups to publicly signal support for the Russian government’s vicious crackdown on equality activists. They’re particularly fond of the so-called “gay propaganda bill,” which criminalizes the distribution of any material that promotes “nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. The bill also forbids anyone from “equating the social value” of traditional and nontraditional relationships.

Violation of this law can be punished by a spectacularly large fine. Some activists have even been jailed. The response from the human rights community has been understandably harsh, as these laws freeze free speech and forcibly render LGBT Russians silent and invisible.

Yet some social conservatives outside of Russia are hailing this as social progress. Larry Jacobs, managing director of the World Congress of Families, wants us to think of the children. “All the law does is to prohibit advocacy aimed at involving minors in a lifestyle that would imperil their physical and moral health,” he said.

To Jacobs, this is evidence the Kremlin can be “redeemed,” and to prove it, he’s holding the next World Congress of Families in the Kremlin itself. The theme? “Large Families: the Future of Humanity.”

That’s disturbing enough. But the bill’s latest American supporter is even worse.

Last month, evangelist Scott Lively published an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin that expressed his gratitude for Putin’s “principled stand.” The letter reads in part, “Already Lithuania, Moldova, Hungary and the Ukraine have begun to follow your principled example, and you have engendered real hope in the international pro-family movement that this destructive and degrading sexual agenda might finally begin to be brought to a halt across the globe.”

This isn’t the first time Lively has addressed Russia on the subject of gay rights. In 2007, the anti-gay activist wrote another open letter that advised the country to adopt a prohibition on the “public advocacy of homosexuality.”  

Lively’s latest missive repeats his pet conspiracy theory: that the Nazi Third Reich was organized and subsequently controlled by a secret cabal of gay men. He first articulated this outlandish theory in his book, The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. The book is nearly as credible as the tomes that claim that the Nazis built secret UFO bases at the South Pole, but Lively stands by it and has pledged to send the first Russian translation to Putin himself.

Lively’s comments came the same month that a Massachusetts judge ruled he can be sued for his anti-gay work in Uganda. The suit, brought by Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), holds Lively accountable for his explicit endorsement of the country’s discriminatory anti-gay laws. Lively lobbied for the same prohibition on gay rights advocacy in Uganda, and the restriction was later adopted as part of the country’s infamous “Kill the Gays Bill.”

As the name suggests, Uganda’s bill punishes certain expressions of same-sex activity with the death penalty. Lively characterizes this as “harsh” – yet he has continued to support the politician who sponsored it. 

The Religious Right’s support for global anti-gay bills shouldn’t surprise anyone. If you genuinely believe you’re engaged in a holy struggle, borders are irrelevant. Larry Jacobs and Scott Lively are certainly voices from the fringe, but their diligence and passion in the pursuit of culture war shouldn’t be underestimated. Their efforts have real consequences, both in the United States and overseas, and although equality is marching forward in this country, these bills are a timely reminder that these culture warriors won’t surrender the fight so easily.