Gay activists tried to stage two demonstrations in Moscow on Sunday to demand the right to hold a gay pride parade in the Russian capital, but they were blocked first by Orthodox Christian opponents and then by police, who detained a total of about 40 people from both sides.
The gay activists first gathered outside the city council building, where a few scuffles occurred as their opponents tried to disrupt the demonstration, decrying homosexuality as a sin. After police broke up that protest, another group tried to stage a second protest at city hall, but once again police moved in and detained participants, including prominent gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev.
The majority of those detained were gay activists, but some of the Christian demonstrators also were pushed into police buses. Police said about 40 people were detained in all.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay sentiment remains strong.
Activists have long petitioned the Moscow government for permission to stage such a parade, but have always been denied. Former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov described gay parades as "satanic," while current Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said he disapproves of gay gatherings because they could offend the religious beliefs of many Russians.
Gay activist Galina Kaptur criticized city authorities for treating homosexuality as a contagious disease that would be spread through society if gays were allowed to hold a parade.
"It's as if they thought that if all left-handed people held a parade, then afterward everyone would become left-handed," Kaptur said. "This is wrong."
Among the opponents of gay rights was Dmitry Tsarionov, who spoke to the crowd in front of a sign that said "Moscow is not Sodom."
"I will not allow perverts to bring the wrath of God onto our city," he said. "I want our children to live in a country where a sin that so awfully distorts human nature is not preached in schools."
This month, Alexeyev became the first person convicted under a new law in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, which makes it a crime to spread "gay propaganda" among minors. Alexeyev was charged after he picketed St. Petersburg's city hall with a placard that said "homosexuality is not a perversion." He was fined 5,000 rubles (about $170).
The Russian parliament is considering extending the measure nationwide, which gay activists say would make it even easier to ban their public demonstrations.
Mikhail Metzel contributed to this report.