Russian MPs vote to ban adoption for foreign gay couples

Russian lawmakers on Friday passed a bill which places tough restrictions on adoption to countries where same-sex marriages are legal, following France's vote last month allowing such unions.

The bill bans people in over a dozen countries from adopting Russian orphans even if they are single, according to the measure that passed in a third and final reading in the Duma lower house of parliament with an overwhelming vote of 444 in favour with none against.

It must still be passed in the upper chamber, which will convene next Wednesday, and be signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law, but the Russian leader has already backed the bill and vowed to sign it into law.

The restriction would follow the approval last year of an adoption ban for citizens of the United States despite massive protests and petitions by thousands of people against the legislation.

The new amendments to Russia's family code say those to be banned from adoption include "persons in a marriage union between people of the same sex registered in a state where such a union is allowed, as well as citizens of such states that are not married".

Deputy prime minister in charge of social issues Olga Golodets on Friday said the bill was not a government initiative.

"The government had nothing to do with it," she said on independent channel Dozhd (Rain), adding that in her opinion the bill was not necessary as adoption issues are already sufficiently regulated.

The bill's wording implies that couples in a heterosexual marriage would still be allowed to adopt Russian children. But single people would be banned, regardless of their sexual orientation.

"Our Duma focuses on forbidding as much as possible and allowing as little as possible," said rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva. "It has limited many rights, including rights of such disenfranchised citizens as Russian orphans. This is the great shame of our Duma."

Same-sex marriages are currently legal in 14 countries, including Canada, Belgium, Spain, Norway and Sweden, with France being the latest addition to the list.

The Russian amendment was added to a broader bill passed in an initial reading in April that aimed to encourage adoption by Russian families by paying Russians up to 100,000 rubles ($3,000, 2,330 euros) for adopting a child over seven years old or with a disability.

It followed the law that went into effect in January, which banned all adoptions to the United States, a country that adopted hundreds of children from Russia every year.

Golodets added in her interview that since January, 3,000 orphans have been adopted into Russian families, but 115,000 remain in institutions. "This is a decent result," she said.

Many Russian non-profit organisations working with orphanages have said that payouts to adopting couples do not help and that instead the entire institution-based orphanage system must be overhauled to encourage foster care.

Russia has in recent months unleashed a campaign defending "traditional values" and the Duma last week passed a controversial bill that imposes jail terms on people seen as promoting homosexual "propaganda".

Critics of the "gay propaganda" bill have said that it is likely to stigmatise Russia's homosexual community even further and give a rise to homophobia and hate crimes.

The bill, which has not yet been signed by Putin into law, would make it an offence to say that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual ones.