A draft bill before Russia’s parliament would significantly affect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said today. Among the proposed amendments to the family code are changes to the legal gender recognition rights for transgender people that will negatively affect their ability to marry and raise children. The bill also contains a superfluous ban on same-sex marriage.
Under Russia’s current laws, transgender people can change their legal gender by taking steps that include a psychiatric evaluation and medical procedures. The proposed law provides that a person’s sex on their birth certificate cannot be changed, and that trans people who have changed their birth certificates under the current law would have to change them back to the sex they were assigned at birth. That is discriminatory in and of itself and would flagrantly violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. The European Court of Human Rights has long ruled that a government’s refusal to alter the birth certificate of a person who has undergone gender reassignment violates their rights to privacy and personal autonomy under the Convention.
“The proposed amendments to the family code are intentionally regressive and harmful,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Deliberately creating more barriers for legal gender recognition and parenting rights for transgender people only further marginalizes an already-embattled community.”
This discrimination is compounded by the proposed law’s explicit ban on same-sex marriage. Heterosexual trans people forced to list their birth-assigned sex on their birth certificates would most likely not be able to marry, as their marriages would be considered same-sex marriages. This would, in turn, prevent such couples from raising children as legally recognized co-parents.
The new law falls into a pattern of the Russian government increasingly using so-called “traditional values” to trample human rights, particularly for LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said.
Russia’s notorious anti-gay “propaganda” law has been used increasingly in recent years as a tool for outright discrimination. Under the law, adopted in 2013, portraying same-sex relations as socially acceptable in the public domain and in the presence of children is illegal.
The “propaganda” law has been used to target peaceful public protests, individuals’ social media posts, teachers, and Deti-404, a website providing psychosocial – mental health – support for LGBT youth. It has been used to justify a criminal investigation of social workers who allowed a gay couple, married abroad, to adopt children, forcing the family to flee to the United States. In 2019, a court censored LGBT social media groups, citing the law. The judge deemed this content responsible for “rejecting family values, promoting non-traditional sexual relations and fostering disrespect for parents and/or other family members.”
The social and legal environment in Russia already creates significant difficulties for transgender people with children. The proposed law further entrenches the widespread antipathy toward LGBT people by creating additional barriers to fundamental rights. Limiting transgender people’s ability to parent – as these proposed amendments to the family code would do – fails not only to uphold the rights of the parents, but also the rights of the children. International human rights law says the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in all matters that involve them, including custody issues.
In 2010 the Council of Europe recommended that: “Taking into account that the child’s best interests should be the primary consideration in decisions regarding the parental responsibility for, or guardianship of a child, member states should ensure that such decisions are taken without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering a case of a Russian trans woman who has been barred from visiting her children.
“These proposed amendments amount to a cruel solution in search of a problem,” Reid said. “Further restricting the rights of transgender people in the name of ‘traditional values’ in Russia does nothing but harm a group of vulnerable people.”