Two gay men who found a loophole in Russia’s marriage laws not only got married but their marriage was recognized by the notoriously homophobic government.
Pavel Stotsko and Evgennii Voytsekhovsky were married in Copenhagen, Denmark on 4 January. Denmark recognizes same-sex marriages but Russia does not.
‘We’ve been together for over six years, four of which we have lived together,’ Stotsko wrote on Facebook.
‘We have always dreamed of a wedding, so in the face of a (hostile) society we did our vows to each other in devotion and love.’
But Russian does recognize marriages registered overseas so long as they don’t ‘contradict article 14 of the Family Code.’
That article outlaws the marriage of close relatives, people under the age of 18, between adoptive parents and their children, people with certain mental health issues and people who are already married. The article does not say anything about same-sex marriages.
Upon their return to Moscow, the couple went to the multifunctional service center (MFC) to register their wedding.
The claimed the civil servant stamped their passports as married ‘without additional questions, or any change in his facial expression’.
But the MFC quickly issued a statement denying it had recognized the same-sex marriage, it labelled the men’s claims as ‘false news’.
‘The MFC Moscow officially refutes: the centers of state services in Moscow do not provide a service for the registration of marriage,’ it said in the statement.
‘The documents accepted for the planned registration of marriage are transferred by the employees of the state services centers to the civil registry office for approval.
‘No stamp is made by the employees of the state service centers in the passport. In this regard, the information indicated in the news is false.’
But the men are standing their ground in the belief that their wedding was officially recognized in Russia.
‘We didn’t file for marriage in MFC,’ Stotsko wrote on Facebook.
‘We brought the MFC a marriage certificate, under which the department of internal affairs of the Ministry of Migration stamped the passports of the state registration of marriage, in accordance with the current administrative regulations and the passport and family code.
‘The precedent is that the gay marriage, through the the of the corresponding stamps in the passport, was recognized in Russia.’
Home raided, mom threatened
But on Saturday afternoon after the men’s story went public a group of plain clothesofficials turned up to their apartment and identified themselves as being from the MFC. Even Moscow’s deputy police chief Andrey Zakharov turned up to the raid.
The officials claimed they only wanted to drop off a notice, but electricity to the apartment was cut off.
Stotsko told Rain the officials were knocking insistently and for a long time. He described being in a ‘state of siege’.
The Russian LGBT Network quickly mobilized and sent media, lawyers and activists to help the couple.
‘But even the arrival of lawyers did not force law enforcement officials to leave,’ the Network said in a statement.
‘As it turns out, the most important thing for them was to remove those already declared invalid passports with seals.’
The negotiations between lawyers and the officials lasted until 2am when the couple eventually surrended their passports. The Interior Ministry accused the men of intentionally damaging their passports. They will received replacements passports without the marriage stamps.
The Network have relocated Stotsko and Voytsekhovsky to a safe location.
During the raid the men received a phone call from Stotsko’s mom, Zenya, to say she had received multiple threatening phone calls.
According to Stotsko the calls ranged from threatening to behead him to threatening to get her fired from her job if she didn’t encourage the men to stop their public campaign.