Gay Americans are jubilant over the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on gay marriage. But just as LGBT Americans are gaining rights, gay Russians are losing theirs. This crackdown on homosexuals is another step in Vladimir Putin’s campaign to destroy Russian democracy, and America cannot sit idly by.
Although President Obama speaks of the need to bring democracy to places such as Egypt and Syria, he has watched helplessly as Vladimir Putin has become a 21st-century despot. Each day brings news that another Putin foe has been arrested and charged with “corruption.” It’s now a crime to attend a public protest in Russia, punishable by years in prison. You read that correctly. Ordinary Russians are being sentenced to years in prison for attending peaceful, public protests.
It’s easy to sit in America and write about the virtues of democracy. But would any of us be willing to lose years of our lives to attend a protest? Especially when we would be arrested immediately, the protest would not be covered by Russian-controlled state television, and most people would never know about our sacrifice? Some brave Russians are willing to do just that, and America owes it to them to publicly oppose Mr. Putin.
Although President Obama is focused on spreading democracy in the Middle East, he is doing nothing to preserve democracy in Russia. In fact, the recent protests in Egypt show that Egyptians have more power to effect governmental change than Russians do.
President Obama is presumably staying silent in order to protect U.S.-Russian relations. This is a pitiful excuse for inaction, and Obama’s strategy isn’t working in any case. Russia is thwarting U.S. efforts across the globe from Syria and Iran to China and North Korea. All the while, Russia continues to slide into tyranny. And Putin continues to jab his thumb in Obama’s eye by giving safe haven to Edward Snowden.
Now, Mr. Putin has turned his wrath on Russian homosexuals. Russia’s legislature, for example, recently passed a law banning “gay propaganda.” According to the Associated Press, the law imposes heavy fines for simply talking about homosexuality to minors or holding gay pride rallies.
And this is not an idle threat. Gay Russians recently decided to stage a gay pride parade in defiance of this new, discriminatory law. In response, dozens of peaceful, law-abiding Russians were arrested. Mr. Putin also recently signed a law banning gay adoptions.
While millions of Americans were freely marching in gay pride parades last week, their Russian counterparts were being jailed for doing the exact same thing. Similarly, gay Americans are celebrating the right to marry while gay Russians are being persecuted just for having the audacity to exist.
It’s time that gay Americans, and all Americans, demand that our government forcefully stand up to Mr. Putin. There may be some foreign policy consequences of confronting this modern-day tyrant (though I think there will be fewer than Mr. Obama thinks). But if America doesn’t stand for democracy and freedom, we might as well not stand for anything at all.
David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.