Rights court condemns Russia for allowing Moscow to ban gay pride marches

The European Court of Human Rights condemned Russia on Thursday for letting Moscow ban gay pride marches simply because the city's then-mayor — who famously compared gays to the devil — and other officials disapproved of them.

The binding ruling means that Russia must ensure gay parades are freely held in its cities, and requires the country to pay organizers of gay pride events euro29,510 ($41,300) for damages and court costs stemming from bans from 2006 to 2008.

The court is an arm of the Council of Europe, the continent's premier human rights watchdog and Russia is a member.

The case was launched by Nikolay Alekseyev, an organizer of several Moscow marches, to highlight discrimination against gays and lesbians. Moscow's mayor at the time, Yuri Luzhkov, ensured that gay pride parades, which never got official permission to go ahead, were brutally quashed by police.

The European Court of Human Rights said those marches were formally banned "to protect public order, health, morals and the rights and freedoms of others, as well as to prevent riots," but that the real reason was a dislike of gays and lesbians.

"The Moscow mayor had on many occasions expressed his determination to prevent gay parades, as he found them inappropriate," said the court.

It added the mayor "considered it necessary to confine every mention of homosexuality to the private sphere and to force gay men and lesbians out of the public eye, implying that homosexuality was a result of a conscious, and antisocial, choice."

It added, "there is no scientific evidence that the mere mention of homosexuality, or open public debate about sexual minorities' social status, would adversely affect children or 'vulnerable adults'."

In support of Moscow's gay parade bans, the Russian government argued that "gay propaganda was incompatible with religious doctrines and public morals," the court added.

It ruled that that these attitudes violate Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which says "everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." It added the "mere risk of a demonstration creating a disturbance" was no good reason to ban a parade.

The court's action came the same day that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, was named the new mayor of Moscow. He replaces Luzhkov, who was fired by President Dmitry Medvedev last month after 18 years in office.