By July 1, Russians will decide whether or not 206 amendments that could transform the role of the president and the status of citizens’ rights should become part of their constitution. Although all of these changes already have been approved by President Vladimir Putin and the legislature, President Putin has stated that they will become law only with Russian voters’ approval.
To accommodate the need for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, voting will begin on June 25. Two regions – Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod – have the option to vote online.
Until voting ends on July 1, Current Time will take a look each day at the most substantial proposed changes.
The Daily Amendment: Defining Marriage
Warnings about “gay propaganda” and promotion of “family values” have long been a part of the Kremlin’s pitch to conservatives both within Russia and abroad. A 2013 law that banned online information that promotes “non-traditional sexual relations” made clear that no official tolerance exists for same-sex marriages. But now, the drafters of the 206 constitutional amendments up for a vote this week see reason to provide some constitutional heft to this campaign.
As same-sex marriages become more common in the European Union and other Western countries, pushing back against this change has become part of a campaign by conservative Russians against "foreign influences" and for "Russian traditions."
In February, Deputy Labor and Social Welfare Minister Olga Batalina, a member of the ruling United Russia Party and one of the amendment’s initiators, underlined in February that “Today, the very understanding of a family demands protection.”
“Ten years ago,” Batalina said at a meeting of the constitutional-amendments working group, “I definitely couldn’t even have imagined that, in the place of ‘mama’ and ‘papa,’ words understandable to us, there’d come these universal, strange concepts of ‘parent no.1’ and ‘parent no.2.’”
President Putin agreed: “So long as I’m president, there won’t be ‘parent no. 1’ and ‘parent no. 2,’” he pledged. “There’ll be ‘papa’ and ‘mama.’”
Voters have been asked to decide whether the Russian Constitution’s Article 72, which guarantees protection of human rights, the environment, the family, and national minorities, should now also defend marriage “as a union between a man and a woman.”
In a March 22 poll by the state polling service VTsIOM, 80 percent of 1,600 respondents supported the constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Seventeen percent were opposed.
Ultimately, though, this amendment may change little. Russia's Family Code already defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages cannot be legally contracted in Russia.
What Russia’s Constitution Already Says About Marriage:
Russia’s 1993 constitution does not mention marriage, but does mention the protection of and state support for the family, motherhood, fatherhood, and childhood (Articles 7, 38, and 72). Marriage is described in the Family Code (Chapter 1, Article 3), which states that “Family relations shall be regulated in conformity with the principles of a voluntary conjugal union between a man and a woman …”
There have been and continue to be challenges to this provision, however.
Just before the constitutional vote, Russian tax officials “accidentally” recognized the U.S.-registered marriage of two gay activists, when they granted one of them a tax deduction for his husband, The Moscow Times reported on June 23. The Russian authorities recognize foreign marriages that are not between close relatives or bigamous.
The Federal Tax Service does not appear to have yet responded to news about this de facto recognition of a same-sex marriage.
In 2018, the government invalidated a married gay couple’s passports after they received an official change of marital status in their documents. The two men, who had been married in Denmark, had to leave the country.
The Constitutional Court already has ruled on the constitutionality of the Family Code’s restrictions.
In 2006, Eduard Murzin, a deputy in the Bashkir regional assembly, appealed to the Court when the civil registry refused to register his marriage with a man.
But the Court found that “the national traditions of the relationship to marriage are that of the biological union of a man and woman.” The constitution "presumes that one of the purposes of the family is the birth and upbringing of children,” the judges added.
Will This Amendment Make A Difference?
The marriage amendment, like the amendments about God or the Russian language, is intended to attract the votes of conservative Russians, experts believe.
“Any public opinion polls show that a large part of the population supports such a position,” said Olga Zdravomyslova, executive director of the Gorbachev Foundation. “In fact, it’s a statement of fact, of the current state of affairs. But along with the reference to family values, it has support among the overwhelming majority” of the population.
But how deep that support lies can be difficult to pinpoint. Though the VTsIOM poll above indicated 80-percent support for the marriage amendment, nearly half (47 percent) of Russians interviewed by the independent pollster Levada in May 2019 stated that LGBT Russians should have the same rights as all other citizens. That result was the highest since 2005, Levada reported.
The 2013 so-called “gay propaganda” law, however, means that such people are likely far less outspoken than their opponents.
Facing an historic downturn in public approval of President Putin (59 percent in May 2020, according to Levada) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, government supporters are looking for concepts with which to rally Russians.
Though “[n]o one has proposed same-sex marriage,” the June 25-July 1 vote on the constitutional changes has been “rethought as a referendum on faith, the Russian people, traditional values, and against same-sex marriages and juvenile justice (more liberal laws on juvenile crime – ed),” political analyst Yekaterina Shulman commented in March 2020.