NEW YORK — As the hub of the Soviet Union, Russia was reviled for rights abuses by many U.S. conservatives during the Cold War. Now some are voicing support and admiration as Russian authorities crack down on gay-rights activism.
The latest step drawing praise from social conservatives is a bill signed into law Sunday by President Vladimir Putin that would impose hefty fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the gay community to minors.
"You admire some of the things they're doing in Russia against propaganda," said Austin Ruse, president of the U.S.-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. "On the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here."
Ruse, whose institute is seeking accreditation at the United Nations, plans to travel to Russia this summer to meet with government officials and civic leaders.
"We want to let them know they do in fact have support among American NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on social issues," he said.
Among others commending Russia's anti-gay efforts was Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
"Russians do not want to follow America's reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth," LaBarbera said on his website.
In a sign of Russia's evolving stature among some U.S. social conservatives, the Illinois-based World Congress of Families plans to hold its eighth international conference at the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses in Moscow next year. Past conferences in Europe, Mexico and Australia have brought together opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage from dozens of countries.
"The Kremlin used to be a no-no for conservatives," said Larry Jacobs, managing director of the World Congress. "We're going to redeem that building."
The website for the September 2014 conference declares that Russia, "with its historic commitment to deep spirituality and morality, can be a hope for the natural family supporters from all over the world."
Jacobs, in an interview, drew a link between Russia's disapproval of homosexuality and its worries about a population decline.
"They've got a problem with marriage rates and fertility, and it doesn't help if you're encouraging non-reproductive behavior," he said.
Abortion remains legal in Russia through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy — a contrast to the general view of most U.S. social conservatives that abortion should be outlawed. However, the current abortion law — passed in 2011 — is more restrictive than its predecessor.
There's little doubt that Russians, overall, are far less supportive of gay rights than Americans. According to a Pew Research Center survey released June 4, only 16 percent of Russians said homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to 60 percent in the U.S., and 80 percent or higher in Canada, Spain and Germany. However, there's less support for gay rights in some Eastern European countries, and even in Western Europe the issue can fuel conflict, as evidenced by recent clashes in France between far-right protesters and police over a new gay-marriage law.
The Obama administration has said it would make gay rights an important part of its foreign policy, raising the possibility that countries viewed as discriminating against gays could suffer consequences.
Secretary of State John Kerry outlined this approach on June 19 at a gay pride event at the State Department. He did not mention Russia by name, though he spoke disapprovingly of "anti-propaganda laws in Eastern Europe" that are targeting gay-rights demonstrators.
"We just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity," Kerry said.
The Russian bill has been assailed by gay-rights and human-rights groups in the U.S.