Russia and China: A (Superficial) Legal Comparison on Gay Rights

a bit of followup from yesterday’s post: it occurred to me some time after posting it that a relevant question to ask would be just how bad the situation for gays in Russia really is. Because Lord knows I haven’t made it to my late 30s without learning that half the time the media has its knickers in a bunch there’s no fire at all.

Wikipedia’s take on the legal situation:

(1) Homosexuality is legal – so, there are no laws against consensual same-sex relations. As there were in some states in the US as recently as 2003, for example.

(2) The age of consent is the same – so, no discrimination that way either.

(3) Transsexuals can legally change their gender – so Russia doesn’t even have a (legal) problem with someone thinking their physical gender doesn’t match their emotional one.

(4) Homosexuality is not a mental illness – admittedly as of only 15 years ago, which puts them about 25 years behind the US on that one, but still.

Now, that’s the good news. The bad news is all the stuff you’ve heard before:

(5) There is a law banning "gay propaganda" as delivered to minors – meaning you can’t really say in public – or, erm, at least not where there are children around – that homosexuality is a natural thing on par with heterosexuality. Russia’s official position would seem to be that homosexuality is learned, not inherited. And yes, this is a significant abridgement of liberty over and above just being a free speech violation, because it commits the government to a position on a scientific subject, and it seems ripe for abuse (in, lets not beat about the bush, a country where abuse of authority is … how to put this? … not uncommon).

(6) Gays cannot adopt children, nor can Russian children be adopted by foreigners living in countries which recognize SSM – which is bad for the all the obvious reasons. First, there’s no credible scientific evidence I’m aware of that gays are worse parents, on average, than straights, so this is an abridgement of liberty without any sort of rational basis. More importantly, given how many orphans there are and how difficult it is to be an orphan, the law might be hurting orphaned children by narrowing their prospects for finding stable homes.

Now, how about China? Information is a little harder to find, but China does seem to be more tolerant of homosexuality on the whole than Russia. Gay marriage isn’t legal there either, and gay couples can’t adopt children (nor can gay foreigners adopt children from China), but they dont’ ban "gay propaganda," and while there’s plenty of discrimination against homosexuals there, the population doens’t seem to be as overtly hostile to homosexuality as the Russian population is (some polls show as much as 90% of the Russian populaton in support of the ban on "gay propaganda" – not that Russian poll numbers are all that accurate).

Taken as a whole, I just don’t see a basis for a boycott at all. Russia doesn’t have any restrictions against homosexuality that China doens’t have, save the one about "gay propaganda," but that one has to be taken into account against the backdrop of China’s much more repressive restrictions on speech in general. Russia may not be a fun place to live if you want to talk about homosexuality, but it’s a lot more fun than China for almost any other category of speech. I mean, shit, in Russia you can get online and actually read the foreign press, for starters.

So, seriously, if you’re boycotting Sochi because you’re worried about gay rights in Russia, then you’re basically saying that free speech only matters to you if it’s the right of older people to talk to young people about sex between people with the same plumbing. If it’s, oh, I dunno, the right to assemble in public and march for democratic reform, or to criticise government policy in almost any way, or to browse the internet without the government standing over your shoulder deciding what sites you can and can’t visit … well, then you just don’t care.

If that’s the case, I feel truly sorry for you, for you are a Ridiculous Person.

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