MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir
Putin has offered new assurances to gay athletes and fans attending the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics next month. Yet he defends Russia's anti-gay law by
equating gays with pedophiles and says Russia needs to "cleanse"
itself of homosexuality if it wants to increase its birth rate.
Putin's comments in a TV interview
broadcast Sunday still show the wide gulf between the perception of
homosexuality in Russia versus the West. A Russian law passed last year banning
"propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors has
caused an international outcry.
Putin refused to answer a question on
whether he believes that people are born gay or become gay. The Russian law,
however, suggests that information about homosexuality can influence a child's
The Russian president has found himself
frequently discussing his country's anti-gay laws, as the world's attention shifts
Russia's way ahead of the Olympics. Putin has identified himself closely with the
$50-billion event. Calls for a mass boycott of the games due to the laws have
failed, but the row has clouded the build-up to the event.
Critics say the law is discriminatory and part of a rolling
back of human rights and democratic freedoms under Putin, who has taken a more
conservative course on social issues since returning to the presidency in
On Friday, Putin insisted Russia is not "going after" gays, according to Reuters.
"There is no ban on non-traditional forms of sexual
interaction between people. We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality,"
Putin told a meeting with young volunteers preparing for the games. "We
ban nothing, we aren't going after anyone, we have no responsibility for such
Putin said some U.S. states had laws envisaging criminal
responsibility for gay sexual intercourse.
"We have no such thing, people can feel free and at
ease but please leave the children in peace," he said.
Putin did not elaborate. In a victory for gay rights
activists, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 invalidated any remaining anti-sodomy
laws that prohibited sex between adults of the same gender.
In a clear message to Moscow, U.S. President Barack Obama
included three openly gay athletes in his Olympic delegation and Britain said
it would sent to Sochi a minister responsible for the country's same-sex marriage