Image: Russia gay rights
Sergey Ponomarev  /  AP
Irina Fedotova-Fet, left, and Irina Shipitko kiss in a Moscow court on Wednesday. The lesbian couple is seeking legal sanction for the marriage.
updated 8/26/2009 10:39:59 AM ET 2009-08-26T14:39:59

The debate over whether to allow a lesbian couple to marry in Russia sparked an angry exchange inside a Moscow courtroom Wednesday, while outside the women locked lips to protest a holdup in proceedings.

Homosexuality has been decriminalized in Russia but there is little support for gay rights.

The court postponed hearing a complaint from the gay couple over a refusal to let them marry. Judge Natalya Zhuravlyova said the reason for the postponement was the couple's "disrespectful" failure to appear in court.

The couple, Irina Fedotova-Fet and Irina Shipitko, arrived 10 minutes after the hearing ended and kissed for the cameras. They said they had been held up in traffic.

The authorities "are using any excuse" to obstruct their quest for matrimonial recognition, Shipitko said.

"There is enough homophobia in this country. We are no different from any other couple," she said.

Lawyer: Court session is a ‘disgrace’
Earlier in the courtroom, lawyer Nikolai Alexeyev protested the postponement, telling the judge "the way you conduct a hearing is a disgrace."

Alexeyev protested the new date, Sept. 9, saying he couldn't make it. The judge ignored Alexeyev, asking him instead to sign a court document setting the new date.

"I won't be signing that. It's a disgrace, your court session. A big disgrace," Alexeyev said.

Alexeyev — also Russia's most prominent gay rights activist and an organizer of gay pride parades — later told The Associated Press that the judge's attitude reflected the official stance toward gays in Russia — "intolerant."

Little official tolerance
Gay rights demonstrations are not permitted by Moscow, whose mayor has called homosexuality "satanic." Foreign politicians and pop stars as well as dozens of Russians have been roughed up by police and attacked for participating in the protests.

The last gay parade was in May and coincided with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. That ended with dozens of arrests .

Fedotova-Fet and Shipitko, meanwhile, applied in May to get married at a Moscow registry office but were eventually refused on the grounds that same-sex marriage is illegal in Russia. They argue that Russian law does not forbid such a union. A court ruled the refusal was legal and their complaint was to be heard Wednesday.

Shipitko and Fedotova-Fet will fly in October to Toronto, Canada, where they plan to marry. They have said they would subsequently urge Russian authorities to recognize the marriage.

Same-sex marriages are legal in Canada.

More on: Russia | Gay marriage

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