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06:00 GMT +3 hours20 December 2014
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Church Official Urges Nationwide 'Gay Propaganda' Law

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A new law in Russia's second city, St. Petersburg, that imposes fines for spreading "gay propaganda" among minors should be implemented nationwide, an Orthodox Church official said on Monday, a day after the legislation was signed by the city's governor.

A new law in Russia's second city, St. Petersburg, that imposes fines for spreading "gay propaganda" among minors should be implemented nationwide, an Orthodox Church official said on Monday, a day after the legislation was signed by the city's governor.

"The determination displayed by representatives of sexual minorities and their desire to continue rallying outside children's establishments indicate the timeliness of this regional law, which should, without delay, be given federal status, this, however, is the task for State Duma lawmakers," Hieromonk Dimitri Pershin, the Russian patriarch's representative on youth issues, said in a statement obtained by RIA Novosti.

Pershin's comments came after an alleged statement by gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev, who said LGBT groups would protest in front of kindergardens in response to the law.

Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida did not immediately return a request for comment.

Homosexuality was punishable by prison terms in the Soviet Union and was only decriminalized by President Boris Yeltsin in 1993, although discrimination against gay people remains widespread. According to a 2010 survey by the independent Levada Center polling agency, 74 percent of respondents said gays and lesbians were "amoral" and "mentally defective," while only 45 percent said they should enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals.

The St. Petersburg law, which follows similar legislation in the southern Astrakhan region and the central Ryazan and Kostroma regions, imposes fines of up to 5,000 rubles ($170) for individuals and 500,000 rubles ($17,000) for companies for "public actions aimed at promoting sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism among minors." The legislation could also complicate efforts by gay activists to organize a Russian Gay Pride parade. Numerous attempts to hold gay rights protests in Moscow and elsewhere have been either vetoed by officials or hampered by riot police and right-wing groups.

The law is due to come into force within 10 days.

The European Court of Human Rights fined Russia in 2010 for banning gay parades in Moscow, in what Alexeyev described as a "crippling blow to homophobia" in Russia.

Vitaly Milonov, the St. Petersburg bill's drafter and local deputy of the ruling United Russia party, defended it, saying it was a "declaration of Russia's moral sovereignty."

Milonov could not be reached for comment.

The law defines propaganda of homosexuality as "the targeted and uncontrolled dissemination of generally accessible information, which can damage the health, moral and spiritual development of the underaged."

In a report published in the state-owned Rossiskaya Gazeta earlier this month, Russia's human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin called the law "strange" and said it "created conditions for the arbitrary rule of law toward adult citizens."

Igor Kochetkov, head of the St. Petersburg LGBT group Coming Out, said the law resembled Soviet repression and violated Russia's international obligations.

He also accused St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, an outspoken proponent of the Orthodox Church, of "indulging his religious views" and "lobbying the interests of a single organization."

"In Russia, the Church is separated from the state," he told RIA Novosti. "The authorities should not be guided by the opinions of the Church."

The group earlier described the legislation as an attempt to divert rising discontent from "real political problems."