Family Rights & Same Sex Unions


Irina Shepitko and Irina Fedotova (Fet) on May 12, 2009, the day of their application for a marriage license at Moscow ZAGS. Photo GayRussia.Ru

As of today, Russian legislation does not allow same-sex couples to marry. However, theoretically, the law does not list same-sex unions as one of the reasons to deny the recognition of a marriage legally registered outside Russia. Yet, the official recognition of a foreign marriage in Russia remains practically difficult, since Russia does not grant those marriages the same benefits that it does in most other countries.

In April 2005, upon the request of GayRussia, a poll was conducted by the independent public opinion organization Levada Center, which found that 73.4% of Russians were against the legalization of same-sex marriage with only 14.3% supporting it.

The attitude of Russians towards same-sex marriage being extremely negative, GayRussia understood that lobbying the government for the recognition of benefits for same-sex couples would never result in any advancement on this issue. Therefore, in 2009, GayRussia decided to launch a wide campaign for same-sex marriage in Russia with the bias to change things through the judicial system and, if unsuccessful in Russian Courts, to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

As a result, a longtime couple decided to be the symbol of this campaign, and they attempted to register their marriage in Moscow on May 12, 2009, just a few days before the Slavic Pride.

However, the couple received a written denial from Svetlana Potamyshneva, head of the office, who refused to register the marriage, stating, “Point 3 of Article 1 of the Family Code of Russia stipulates that the regulation of family relations must adhere to the principle of a voluntary union between a man and a woman.”

The couple’s desire to marry did not stop at the refusal of the Tverskoy Office for the Registration of Civil Acts (ZAGS) to deliver a marriage license. The Couple always said that they would celebrate their unions outside Russia if they have no other choice.

GayRussia arranged all the plans for the couple to marry in Canada, where foreign nationals can register a marriage regardless of whether they have a valid residence in the country or not. The same would have not been possible in The Netherlands, Belgium, or Spain.


Irina Shepitko, Irina Fedotova (Fet) and Nikolai Alekseev outside Tverskoy District Court. Photo GayRussia.Ru

On the judicial side, the couple appealed the denial of the ZAGS to deliver a marriage license with the Tverskoy District Court, which upheld the denial on October 6. Later, the Moscow City Court confirmed it on appeal on January 21, 2010. The couple then filed a complaint against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights, where it is pending for consideration.

Although this case is not the only one pending at the European Court on the issue of same-sex marriage, it is one which has most chances of success because, contradictory to France, Germany, or The United Kingdom, Russia does not offer any alternative form of unions for same-sex couples such as partnership.

In addition, as the first decision of the European Court of Human Rights in this sphere showed in February 2010 in the case of a gay couple against Austria, the judges of Strasbourg are divided on the question, and the Austrian couple lost this first case as most activists expected. Observers were surprised to see that the decision was only rejected by X judges against x.

The Russian case is expected to be considered by the Court in a few years, and probably by that time, more countries in Europe will legalize same-sex marriage and same-sex partnership. As a result, there is a high chance that the case can be won. It is clear that given the reaction within Russia after the loss of the Moscow Pride case, a positive decision in the case of same-sex marriage would create an unprecedented political blow.

This campaign drew a large resonance in the Russian media and generated several discussions on TV and radio about the issue of same-sex marriage. The campaign managed to put the issue in the society and have it discussed and thought about by everyone.


Marriage of Irina Fedotova (Fet) and Irina Shepitko in Toronto, October 2009. Photo GayRussia.Ru

The recourse to a genuine female couple, both young and bright, helped to give a glamorous touch and avoid stereotypes. Globally, the echoes in the media were all positive. Some journalists expressed their opinion against it, but the couple avoided the typical laughs and mockery. The campaign was understood as it was—a serious project. A journalist who doubted the authenticity of the relationship of the two girls even investigated and found old photos of the couple on odnoklassiki, proving the reality of their longtime relationship.

The attitude of Russian gays tends to change as well. A poll organized in January 2010 on GayRussia.Ru showed that 57.6% of respondents believe that Same-Sex Unions (partnerships or marriage) will happen in Russia over their lifetime, while 36.7% believe they will never see that day.



May 27

Russia decriminalized male homosexuality

In 1993, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree which repealed the law forbidding male homosexuality. Starting from 2006, Russian gay rights activists started to celebrate this date by attempting to organize an annual gay rights march known as Moscow Gay Pride. The first edition was banned and marred with violence. It was reffered as the first Russian Stonewall.

May 17

Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

This day was founded in 2004 by French Academic Louis-Georges Tin to mark the anniversary of the declassification of homosexuality from the list of disease by the World Health Organization. Russian LGBT have been celebrating this day every year since 2005 under the leadership of Project GayRussia which was itself founded on May 17, 2005. GayRussia is Russia's coordinator of IDAHO.

May 15

Slavic Gay Pride in Minsk

Following Moscow in May 2009, Minsk was the second capital to host the Slavic Gay Pride. The March was banned and marred with violence but it did not prevent two dozens of Pride organizers from Moscow, Minsk and St. Petersburg to march over 300 meters waiving a 10meters long rainbow flag. 11 participants including some of the organizers were brutally arrested by police forces.

May 12

Lesbian same-sex couple attempt to register marriage in Moscow

2009 marked the launch of GayRussia's campaign for the opening of same-sex union of gays and lesbians in Russia. While the Constitutional Court already expressd the opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman, activists believe that the lack of partnership or marriage for gay couples is a strong point to impose legislative changes via a decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

April 11

Victory for Russian LGBT activists at the European Court of Human Rights

The five-judge panel of the Grand Chamber of the Court rejected the appeal of the Russian Federation in the Moscow Pride Ban case. The decision given on October 21 is final. By repeatedly banning Gay Pride Marches as well as other LGBT themed public action, Russia breached the European Convention on Human Rights.