First legally married Russian gay couple flees the country in fear for their lives
The first gay couple to have a marriage recognised in Russia have fled the country after authorities began hunting them down.
Eugene Wojciechowski and Pavel Stotsko tied the knot on January 4 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in matching bow-ties.
When they returned to Russia, they hoped – but did not expect – that their union would be seen as legal in their home country.
To their shock and delight, a government employee in Moscow stamped their passports with official confirmation of the marriage – and it took just five minutes.
The news was as surprising as it was welcome, coming just weeks after research found that 83 percent of Russians think it’s “always reprehensible” or “almost always reprehensible” for two adults to have gay sex.
And the illusion of progress was shattered days later when the government announced that the passports were invalid and that the pair would be fined for “intentionally damaging” them.
On Monday, police came to the couple’s flat on the outskirts of Moscow – after first trying Stotsko’s parents’ home – and tried to break down the door.
They blocked the exits, barring anyone from going in or out, and switched off the lights and internet for several hours, according to the Russian LGBT Network.
Wojciechowski and Stotsko were told they could not leave their home unless they gave up their passports and that if they tried to do so, they would be charged with resisting the police.
According to reports, authorities also let the couple know that if any anti-gay people or organisations took violent actions against them, the police could not guarantee their safety.
Igor Kochetkov, who leads the Russian LGBT Network, told The Moscow Times that this statement was “a hidden threat.
“Therefore the decision was made that for now, they must leave Russia,” he explained.
In a statement, his organisation said that the spouses “have been forced to leave the Russian Federation.
“This development was not planned – the real threat to the freedom and security of Paul and Eugene was the only reason for their departure.
On Facebook yesterday, Stotsko wrote: “The LGBT network today saved our lives!
“We’re going for a few days, but we’re still fighting!”
In another post, he said that the Ministry of Internal Affairs employee who confirmed the legal status of the couple’s marriage in their passports had been fired.
Stotsko called this “unacceptable,” adding that the decision “contradicts the Russian labour code and is an act of intimidation for all employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs”.
Friends and fans have posted photos and messages online to show their support for the couple, with a couple of hashtags being created for activists.
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According to Russian law, weddings conducted abroad are legitimate if there is nothing “preventing the conclusion of marriage specified in Article 14 of the Family Code.”
This rule seems to contain a loophole which the newlyweds have taken advantage of.
It states that marriages cannot be approved if they are between close relatives or adoptive parents and adopted children, or if one spouse is already married or unable to make a decision for themselves because they are severely mentally ill.
Nothing in the law states that same-sex unions are disqualified.