(CN) - An anti-gay law that the Russian parliament put into effect in St. Petersburg this week drew sharp words from EU high representative Catherine Ashton.
The new law, passed by the Duma on Sunday, prohibits propaganda of homosexuality to be distributed to minors, with violations carrying fines ranging from $130 to $16,700.
Of the 450 deputies in attendance, 52 refused to vote, one opposed the law and one abstained from voting, allowing the law to easily pass with 338 votes of support, the Moscow Times reported.
Protesters responded with a gay rights demonstration in front of the state Duma building, with couples openly showing their affection for one another.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex communities are among challengers concerned that the new law could prevent them from holding gay pride marches and public demonstrations, creating outreach programs for gay youth, or even publicly showing affection a person of the same sex.
High Representative Ashton echoed their concern in a statement through her spokesperson.
"The implementation of this law could reinforce discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersex people as well as all those who support them and their choices, in particular by limiting their freedom of expression and their freedom of association and assembly," the statement said.
Although Boris Yeltsin decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, it is still regarded as an amoral and deviant choice by a large part of the Russian population. A survey conducted by the Levada Center last year found that 62 percent of Russians respondents found homosexuality morally unacceptable.
Russian authorities and the pro-Putin majority, who are anti-Western with conservative, Orthodox religious beliefs, reflect this attitude.
United Russia Deputy Sablin underlined this mindset before voting yes when he said: "We live in Russia, not Sodom and Gomorrah," the Moscow Times reported on Sunday.
Conversely, the anti-gay law has caused many to voice their concerns and support for the LGBTI community including Sergei Nikitin, head of Amnesty International, Russia, when he said the measure showed the world how backward Russia still remains.
Yulia Gorbunova of Human Rights Watch meanwhile stated: "we are concerned about homophobic sentiment in Russia."
The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply concerned," and that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been proactively talking with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the issue for over a year.
Gay rights proponents have highlighted how Russia's actions draw a stark contrast as other communities make strides against discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation.
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