BERLIN -- Vadim’s brilliant white groom’s tuxedo matched both his smile and the outfits of his friends as they gathered along Berlin’s famed shopping street, the Ku’damm, and waited for the uberfestive annual gay pride parade to begin.
But if the attire of the Russian men hinted at global progress in what many here believe is the civil rights effort of this era – gay and lesbian equality under the law – their words and placards told a very different story.
Vadim, 36, and tellingly afraid to give his real name for fear of reprisals back in Moscow, admitted that his costume was just as much a fantasy as those of the men down the street dressed as unicorns.
“Back in our country, homophobia is law,” he explained. “Our struggle isn’t about the right to marry. Right now, we’re focused on the right to state our case without violating the new laws against gay propaganda.”
Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage were widely interpreted last month in the United States as ushering in greater acceptance of gays and lesbians in American culture . But in Europe, even as the British Parliament approved gay marriage on Tuesday, attitudes toward gays and lesbians are decidedly more mixed. Two countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, legalized gay marriage a decade ago. But elsewhere the approach toward gays and lesbians is far less tolerant.
In Russia last month, President Vladimir Putin signed a law that imposes a $3,000 fine on people advocating for gay and lesbian rights – including the right to marry. The legislation passed 436-0 in the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament.
“It’s not about imposing some sort of sanctions on homosexuality,” Putin said. “It’s about protecting children from such information.”
In Poland, Lech Walesa, whose stand for workers’ rights galvanized his nation’s battle against communism three decades ago, recently suggested Poland’s two openly gay politicians should be put “behind a wall” in Parliament. Macedonia has seen a series of violent attacks on gay and lesbian individuals and organizations. Germany this summer rejected a move to grant gay couples the right to adopt children and hasn’t moved forward on same-sex marriage, though the Bundestag, the German equivalent of Congress, has approved civil unions. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party opposes same-sex marriage.
In Britain, the House of Commons’ approval of same-sex marriage sends the bill to Queen Elizabeth II for approval – a formality.
Meanwhile, France – after months of sometimes violent protest – passed a same-sex marriage bill in April; the aftermath was tumultuous. In May, Dominique Venner, a well-known French historian from the far right and a fierce opponent of gay marriage, wrote a blog entry about its legalization: “New spectacular and symbolic actions are needed to wake up the sleepwalkers and shake the anaesthetized consciousness. We are entering a time when acts must follow words.”
Not long afterward, he walked into Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and, in front of 1,500 witnesses, shot himself in the head. Soon afterward, Marie Le Pen, a National Front leader and France’s most famous member of the far right, said Venner’s suicide was “obviously a gesture of positive despair” and was “aimed at waking up the people of France.”