Pandering to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the homophobia of a huge share of the Russian people, President Vladimir Putin's government has approved new laws that tighten the screws on gays and lesbians. While this may gain him political points at home, Mr. Putin has further darkened the image of his country internationally -- at least in the parts of the world where human rights are valued.
In the United States, Europe and elsewhere, pro-gay activists are pushing a boycott of Russian vodka and discussing a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics set to be held in Sochi, Russia. The uproar has prompted Olympic officials to insist that the Russian government explain the anti-gay laws. Officials from the international soccer federation are also wondering how the anti-homosexual push might affect Russia's hosting of the 2018 World Cup.
On Tuesday at the World Track and Field Championships in Moscow, Nick Symmonds, an American middle distance runner, dedicated the silver medal he had just won to his gay and lesbian friends back in the U.S. Various Olympic athletes have spoken out against Russia's crackdown on homosexuality and are concerned about how gay athletes will be treated at the Sochi games. Figure skater Johnny Weir said he is willing to be arrested by the Russians if it would encourage "people to pay attention and for people to lobby against this law."
Putin insists that Russian homosexuals remain free to live their lives however they wish, even as gays are roughed up on the streets and government officials stoke the fire of anti-gay sentiment. On Russia's most popular news show, the deputy director of Russian state television, Dmitri Kisilev, said the new ban on homosexual "propaganda" is not enough.
"They should be banned from donating blood and sperm," he said. "And their hearts, in case of an automobile accident, should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life."
Mr. Kisilev's comments reportedly were met with a big round of applause from the studio audience.
This all feels like just the start of a new international struggle. On one side are the mostly Western countries that are finally beginning to recognize the full citizenship rights of non-heterosexuals. On the other side are countries in Africa and the Islamic world where gays are subject to imprisonment or even a death sentence.
Having learned nothing from all those dark decades of Communism, the Russians, once again, have picked the wrong side.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.