As part of his proposed constitutional amendments, Russian president Vladimir Putin submitted a draft amendment to the lower house of parliament (State Duma) on the 2nd of March that proposed a ban on same-sex marriage. In a statement by the vice speaker of the Duma, Pyotr Tolstoy, it was declared that the draft amendment mentions Russians’ “faith in god” and describes marriage as a union between “a man and a woman”. The Duma will now carry out a second reading on the 10th of March of all the proposed amendments before the 24-page document is made available to the public. Putin has in the past said that he is not prejudiced against gay people, but that he finds a Western willingness to embrace homosexuality and gender fluidity out of step with traditional Russian values.
Referendum April 22nd 2020
President Putin first proposed amending the constitution in his annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on the 15th of January 2020. On the 23rd of January the State Duma adopted president Putin’s bill unanimously with 432 votes. The Duma is expected to approve the draft amendments in a final vote next week after the second and third reading. Once the draft is approved a nationwide vote will be held on the 22nd of April.
What else is proposed in the amendments and what does the opposition think?
Besides the ban on same-sex marriage, there are other controversial amendment propositions. One of them states that surrendering any part of Russian territory is prohibited, which ensures that any future leader is not able to give Crimea back to Ukraine or give away any other territory for that matter. Opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov has called many of the amendments “crazy proposals”, saying Putin has opened Pandora’s box and given all kinds of politicians – conservative, nationalists, xenophobes, anti-Europeans etc. – the possibility to “kill” the 1993 constitution which was believed to be more liberal. Politician Leonid Volkov, a representative of the Democratic Coalition and close associate of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, has responded to the amendment by saying “love is beautiful in all its manifestations, just as hatred is ugly in all of its appearances. Incidentally, I do not share the pessimism of those who say ‘not in our lifetime’.” Senator Konstantin Dobrynin from Arkhangelsk Region also spoke out in favor of gay rights, saying that Russia should seek to reduce the level of aggression towards sexual minorities.
Ryzhkov is also not alone in thinking that this recent move of Putin’s is a way to ensure he will not lose his grip on power when he has to give up the presidency in 2024. After 2024, Putin could take on a powerful post-presidency role, in for example the Security Council, in which he is now vesting new powers through the constitutional changes. This way he will ensure that he is still able to steer foreign and military policies.
However, a same-sex marriage ban or preventing the give-away of Russian territory is not enough to make people vote in favor of the proposed amendments. On the 22nd of April people will be voting on all amendments as a whole so Ryzhkov believes president Putin is using two amendments in particular to garner support for the entire proposal and subsequently get all the other “crazy” amendments adopted as well. The first is an amendment to index pensions and the other is an amendment that sets the minimum wage above the poverty line. However, critics say that these changes have already been made under Russian law with no success so the new proposals guarantee nothing. About 40 amendments are expected to make the final cut.
Even though in an opinion poll conducted by Public Opinion pollster Levada last month 47% of Russians believed Putin was using the April 22nd referendum to expand his power and remain in power after 2024, 72% of Russians still planned on voting in favor.