Russia is accusing social workers in Moscow of criminal negligence after state officials learned that a same-sex couple had adopted and were raising children together.
There is no law against same-sex adoption in Russia, but the country’s lack of official recognition of same-sex relationships is a de facto ban, as same-sex couples cannot jointly register as a child’s parent when adopting.
In this case, the couple adopted the boys in 2010, with one father registering as their sole parent to allow the adoption to be processed.
The adoption predated Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ people and relationships, best exemplified in the country’s 2013 ban on so-called “gay propaganda,” which bans exposing minors to “nontraditional relationships.”
But that law is now being wielded by the government to prosecute social services and potentially remove the children from the fathers.
Deutsche Welle reports that Russian authorities became aware of the family after one of the son’s was taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis.
After the son mentioned that he was being raised by two fathers, a doctor called police. That led to Russia’s Investigative Committee — a federal investigative office — launching a criminal case against the social workers who allowed the adoption to go ahead.
In a statement on the committee’s website, they accused the adoptive father of child abuse and violating the anti-gay “propaganda” ban by “promoting non-traditional relationships, giving the children distorted perceptions about family values and harming their health and their moral and spiritual development.”
The fathers were invited to a “conversation” with officials about their family, but according to Human Rights Watch they instead chose to leave the country with their children, fearing social services would remove their sons.
Deutsche Welle reports that social workers had not received any complaints about the family. Instead, they had given the fathers a positive evaluation and noted that the family lived comfortably, with one of the fathers a teacher at a higher education institute and the boys regularly looked after by their grandmother and a nanny.
That wasn’t enough to stop authorities from charging the social workers who approved the adoption with a charge of inadequate performance of duties, an offense punishable by up to three months in prison.
Police also reportedly searched the family’s apartment and the the apartment of relatives.
Maksim Olenichev, lawyer for Russian LGBTQ group Vykhod [coming out], told Deutsche Welle that there is not currently a case against the parents, but that the situation could change.
Vykhod is apparently advising the men, who are refusing to speak to press or return to Russia out of fear for their family’s safety.
The ultimate fear is that, by prosecuting the social workers who approved the adoption, the Russian government could ultimately nullify their decision and remove the couple’s sons.
Olenichev said that this case represented a shift in the way the Russian government has applied the “gay propaganda” ban, which is usually reserved for banning Pride marches, arresting teenagers who post photos of half-naked men, and deleting gay scenes from Elton John biopic Rocketman.
“So far, the law has been enforced so that LGBT people don’t carry out public events,” Olenichev said, noting that if officials use the propaganda ban to charge the fathers with a crime, it “could become the first time that this law is applied to someone’s private life.”
Despite reports in Russian media of violence, child abuse, and even rape being the reason for the son’s hospitalization, Olenichev said that the children feel “comfortable and safe in the family” and that there are no “indications of violence.”
It has led to various homophobic actions, from the ridiculous to the extreme, inlcuding LGBTQ people being warned not to “publicly display sexuality” at the 2018 Russian World Cup, or a Russian politician who claimed that a naked statue on a Russian banknote was ‘gay propaganda.’
Last month, filmmaker Oliver Stone was criticized after he called the propaganda ban “sensible” and talked negatively about people who express their gender identity.
During an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Stone told Putin, “It seems like maybe that’s a sensible law.”
Just last month, the ECHR ordered the Russian government to pay damages to three LGBTQ groups, after they were denied permission to register as associations because of the anti-gay “propaganda” law.