To update: In October 2020, the Russian Government Commission for Legislative Activities, the body responsible for reviewing the bill, rejected the bill “aimed at strengthening the institution of the family”, on the grounds that the changes outlined in the bill places too much emphasis on parental rights. at the expense of children’s rights.
(Moscow) – A bill before Russia’s parliament would significantly affect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said today. Among the proposed amendments to the family code are changes to gender recognition legal rights for transgender people that will negatively affect their ability to marry and raise children. The bill also contains a superfluous ban on same-sex marriage.
Under current Russian law, transgender people can change their legal gender by taking steps that include a psychiatric evaluation and medical procedures. The proposed law states that a person’s sex on their birth certificate cannot be changed, and that trans people who have changed their birth certificates under current law would have to change them back to the sex they were assigned at birth. That is discriminatory in itself and would flagrantly violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. The European Court of Human Rights has long ruled that a government’s refusal to amend the birth certificate of a person who has undergone gender reassignment violates their rights to privacy and personal autonomy under the Convention.
“The proposed amendments to the family code are intentionally retrogressive and harmful,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Deliberately creating more barriers to legal gender recognition and parenting rights for transgender people only further marginalizes an already beleaguered community.”
This discrimination is compounded by the explicit prohibition of same-sex marriage contained in the proposed law. Heterosexual trans people forced to include their assigned sex at birth on their birth certificates would likely not be able to marry, as their marriages would be considered same-sex marriages. This, in turn, would prevent those couples from raising their children as legally recognized co-parents.
The new law follows a pattern in which the Russian government increasingly uses so-called “traditional values” to trample on human rights, particularly those of LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said.
Russia’s notorious anti-gay “propaganda” law has been increasingly used in recent years as a tool for open discrimination. Under the law, adopted in 2013, depicting same-sex relationships as socially acceptable in the public domain and in the presence of children is illegal.
The “propaganda” law has been used to target peaceful public protests, social media posts by people, teachers, and Deti-404, a website that provides psychosocial (mental health) support for LGBT youth. It has been used to justify a criminal investigation of social workers who allowed a homosexual couple, married abroad, to adopt children, forcing the family to flee to the United States. In 2019, a court censored LGBT social media groups, citing the law. The judge found that this content was responsible for “rejecting family values, promoting non-traditional sexual relationships, and fostering disrespect for parents and/or other family members.”
The social and legal environment in Russia already creates significant difficulties for transgender people with children. The proposed law further entrenches widespread antipathy towards LGBT people by creating additional barriers to fundamental rights. Limiting the ability of transgender people to parent, as these proposed amendments to the family code would, not only fails to respect the rights of parents, but also the rights of children. International human rights law says that the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all matters involving the child, including custody matters.
In 2010 the Council of Europe recommended that: “Bearing in mind that the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration in decisions relating to parental responsibility or guardianship of a child, Member States must ensure that such decisions are made without discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or identity of genre”. The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering the case of a Russian trans woman who has been banned from visiting her children.
“These proposed amendments amount to a cruel solution in search of a problem,” Reid said. “Further restricting the rights of transgender people in the name of ‘traditional values’ in Russia does nothing but harm a vulnerable group of people.”