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Russian police officers detain demonstrators protesting against a bill banning US adoptions of Russian children outside the Russian parliament's upper chamber in Moscow, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. The upper chamber of Russia's parliament on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a measure banning Americans from adopting Russian children.Misha Japaridze/The Associated Press

In the middle of a Winter Games already tainted by criticism of the Russian government's treatment of gay and lesbians, the Kremlin has tightened a ban on same-sex couples from adopting Russian children, expanding it to also preclude single would-be parents from countries – such as Canada – that allow gay marriage.

A new decree, signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and posted Wednesday on an official government website, expands a 2013 ban on adoptions by same-sex couples to specify that "same-sex couples who are lawfully married in countries that have legal same-sex marriage, or unmarried nationals from these countries" will not be allowed to adopt Russian children.

There are currently 15 countries that legally recognize same-sex marriages. Only 14 countries allow adoptions by same-sex couples.

Russia, however, looks set to become the first country to specifically ban adoptions by single applicants living in countries that permit gay marriage. According to the official RIA Novosti news agency, France, Spain and Canada are the countries that adopt the most Russian children. All three recognize same-sex marriages.

(Adoptions by United States citizens have been banned since the start of 2013 after an adopted Russian toddler died of heat stroke after being left in a parked car for nine hours.)

For two decades, Russia has been one of the largest source countries for foreign adoptions, second only to China. Human-rights activists say the new law is linked to the Kremlin's desire to appeal to conservative Russians and the Russian Orthodox Church by standing up for "traditional" values against principles – such as equality for gays and lesbians – that are seen as Western in origin.

The Russian Orthodox Church has seen its influence grow in the country since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012 for a third term as President. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Russians say they live in an increasingly hostile environment, with rising incidences of workplace discrimination and physical violence.

They also complain of the Kremlin's overt linkages between homosexuality and pedophilia. Mr. Putin signed a law last year outlawing any "propaganda promoting non-traditional sexual relations" that can be viewed by minors. The law – which is punishable by fines and, in the case of foreigners, expulsion – restricts any media portraying gays and lesbians as normal to an over-18 audience.

Speaking ahead of the opening of the Sochi Olympics, Mr. Putin said gays were welcome to attend the Games, but asked that they "leave the children in peace."

The document signed by Mr. Medvedev says the new measures are needed "to guarantee a full and harmonious development for adopted children and to safeguard their psyche and consciousness from possible unwanted influence such as artificial forcing of non-traditional sexual behaviour."

The law also cites "the suffering, complexes and stresses that, according to psychologists' studies, are often experienced by kids raised in same-sex families."

Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director for Human Rights Watch, said the ban on adoptions from countries that allow gay marriage was "part of an ideological campaign that Russia has commenced against LGBT people."

She said another bill currently being considered by Russia's parliament, the Duma, would prevent Russian couples in "non-traditional" relationships from having children using surrogate mothers.

"The government is attempting to consolidate its base of support" by appealing to social conservatives, Ms. Lokshina said. "Putin's ratings are currently lower than before, so the Kremlin is trying to direct public discontent versus specially designated enemies, including the LGBT community."

There is no Pride House – a feature of both the Vancouver Winter Olympics and London 2012 Summer Olympics – in Sochi, after a local judge ruled a pavilion hosting LGBT athletes and visitors would violate the gay propaganda law.

While U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to register a protest by sending an American delegation headed by several openly gay athletes, there have thus far been no political gestures during the Games themselves.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, the head of the Sochi Organizing Committee warned athletes on eve of the Games that competitors should "talk about sport, not politics."

Follow me on Twitter: @markmackinnon

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