Two men have been able to register their marriage in Russia, a first for the country. The Interior Ministry, however, attributes the historic occurrence to a bureaucratic error.
Russia does not recognize same-sex marriage and has a law banning the dissemination of gay “propaganda” to minors, so Pavel Stotzko and Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky’s claim that their marriage was officially registered has caused an uproar.
The couple says they got married in Denmark and submitted their passports to a registrar’s office in Moscow, where a clerk put marriage stamps on the travel documents last week.
Stotzko and Voitsekhovsky say the actions they took are in compliance with the Family Code of the Russian Federation, according to The Independent. Russian officials, however, disagreed, charging the couple with “intentional damage to passports or negligence.” The Interior Ministry says the passports will be withdrawn and the clerk who stamped them fired.
The Russian LGBT Network, a gay rights group, said the newlyweds have left Russia, fearing for their safety.
“It caused a huge outcry all over the country,” Svetlana Zakharova, of the Russian LGBT Network, told NBC News on Tuesday. “We are truly worried by the fact that even though the young men did not do anything illegal, they were accused of the document damage, stalked by the law enforcement agencies — who even cut off the electricity in their apartment — and forced to leave the country.”
Zakharova said her organization provided lawyers for the couple and helped them escape to a safe location.
While homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, homophobia and anti-gay beliefs still persist throughout the country. A report released in November by the Center for Independent Social Research found hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Russia doubled from 2010 to 2015. The St. Petersburg-based organization attributed the rise to Russia’s 2013 law banning the dissemination of gay “propaganda.”
According to ILGA-Europe, a European LGBTQ advocacy group, Russia is Europe’s second least LGBTQ-friendly country, behind Azerbaijan.