Global leaders and Olympic officials have spent months urging Russia to reverse its anti-gay laws, or at the very least tone down the rhetoric during the Sochi Olympics. Late Wednesday, with the Games in full swing, the Kremlin put forward its response to the criticism, defiantly revealing technical amendments to its anti-gay measures for domestic and foreign adoptions.
The amendments reaffirm new laws passed last year banning same-sex couples from adopting Russian children. The laws also ban adoption by unmarried individuals who live in countries that have legalized same-sex marriage, even applicants who are not gay. Canada is on the list, along with at least 14 other countries, including France and Spain. The only good news? Earlier legislation had left it unclear whether even heterosexual couples from gay-rights-respecting countries such as Canada could adopt. Wednesday's amendments say that, yes, they can.
The timing of the decree this week cannot be a coincidence, and signals Russia has decided to respond to months of criticism by publicly digging in its heels and restating its objections. By discriminating against all single people from countries such as Canada – but not single people from countries without legalized same-sex marriage – Russia is making a statement of its moral outrage at the liberalism of those nations. The stance appears to be intended to appeal to social conservatives in Russia, shoring up President Vladimir Putin's traditional base of support.
Russia's moves won't change rules or laws in tolerant countries such as Canada, but they will harm Russia's neediest: children living in orphanages and waiting for adoption. Russia is the world's second largest source of foreign adoptions, after China. According to UNICEF, in 2012 the country had 740,000 orphans. Other aid organizations estimate the number at 2.5 million to 4 million, if street children are included.
The Russian government has been trying to encourage more of its own citizens to adopt, but there were a mere 6,000 domestic adoptions in 2012. For the foreseeable future, the vast majority of Russian orphans have little hope of finding a family in their home country. By cutting off many loving parents from countries such as Canada, the Russian government is turning its most vulnerable children into collateral damage in its war on gay rights.