Last week, the vice-speaker of Russia’s lower chamber of the parliament, Piotr Tolstoi demanded that the country’s constitution explicitly state marriage is a “union between a man and a woman.”
“This will create a barrier to the efforts to bestow some special additional rights on the persons of non-traditional LGBT orientation,” he said.
The reality is that far from getting “additional” rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia still struggle to enjoy the same fundamental protection as everyone else. A stark example of this came three days after Tolstoi’s remarks, when a Moscow jury acquitted someone who killed a gay man.
On June 29, 47-year-old Roman Edalov and his partner Evgeny Efimov were waiting for a cab in the city center, when a drunk man attacked them, screaming homophobic obscenities and punching them, before he fled.
Efimov chased the man and tried to restrain him, but the attacker pulled out a kitchen knife, wounding Efimov and fatally stabbing Edalov, when he rushed to protect his partner. Several people witnessed the killing and a CCTV camera also recorded the gruesome scene. Police immediately arrested the attacker, Anton Berezhnoi.
Authorities opened a murder case, but without raising the hate motive. In court, Berezhnoi did not deny that he had pulled out a knife and Edalov died as a result of being stabbed with the knife, but insisted that he did not mean to murder the victim and that Edalov “bumped into” or “ran into” his knife.
So while the jury found the defendant guilty of the wound to Efimov, they found he should not be held criminally responsible for the killing of the man who died as a result of the knife attack he perpetrated.
When I asked Artyom Lapov, a lawyer representing Edalov’s mother and partner, how he explained the bizarre outcome of the trial, he suggested that the information about Edalov and Efimov’s sexual orientation may have discouraged the members of the jury from viewing the perpetrator as a murderer.
Instead of striving to enshrine discrimination disguised as “traditional values” in the constitution, Tolstoi and other policymakers should do their best to ensure that LGBT people’s lives are equally valued and protected by law in Russia.