MOSCOW (Reuters) - A lesbian couple challenged the Russian legal system on Tuesday when they applied for a marriage licence but it was swiftly rejected on the grounds that such a union must be between a woman and a man.
It was the first attempt by a gay couple to get a marriage licence in Russia.
Irina Fyet, a 30-year-old PR worker, and beauty parlour owner Irina Shepitko, 32, said they would marry instead this summer in Toronto, where gay marriage is legal and no residency is required.
Clad in tuxedos and holding bouquets of white flowers, the pair, from southern Russia, said a gay marriage could improve the “dangerous” situation for homosexuals in Russian society.
“If society will know about us, see that we are normal, there would be a better relationship for (gays) at work, things would be simpler for us,” Shepitko said before kissing Fyet.
“We have love, we have happiness. We want to be together forever and get married, in Russia,” Fyet said after the pair sped in a sports car through the entrance of a register office in Moscow, where mayor Yuri Luzhkov once described gay pride marches as “satanic.”
The Soviet Union banned homosexuality and any type of nudity on TV, and Russia did not decriminalise gay sex until 1993, two years after the USSR’s collapse.
Unlike other major European cities, Moscow has no gay-friendly district and the homosexual scene is still largely underground, although there are some openly gay bars.
Despite one of Russia’s most popular musical groups abroad, Tatu, trading on their fictionalised lesbian image, same-sex couples are rarely seen being affectionate in public. “We’re scared of the extremists, but I hope that they won’t be too harsh on us as we’re two sweet girls. But being gay is dangerous in Russia,” Fyet told Reuters.
Russian nationalists threatened on Tuesday to “cure” any homosexuals who join a Gay Pride parade on Saturday. The march, which Moscow city has said will be banned, will coincide with its hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseyev stepped in after a register office worker breached Russian law by at first refusing to let the couple even apply for the marriage licence.
“This is about the private rights of citizens ... and today they (Fyet and Shepitko) were denied this. That means that this country violates a person’s rights,” he told reporters.
While most marriage applications receive a response within 10 working days, the pair were rejected in just under an hour.
“By the Russian family code, a marriage must be between a man and a woman. This is the law and also my personal opinion,” said director of the register office, Svetlana Potamoshneva.
Shepitko said they expected a rejection so they were not disappointed. They are banking on a loophole in Russian law which bans gay marriage at home but does not prevent the recognition of a same-sex marriage that has taken place abroad.
“The Russian constitution must accept our Canadian union,” she said.
Potamoshneva acknowledged a grey area existed but said any decision regarding a foreign gay marriage would “have to be one for the court.”