The United States on Friday slammed a disputed bill in Russia that would ban what lawmakers there call "homosexual propaganda" among minors and could lead to gays being fined for demonstrating or kissing in public.
"We are deeply concerned by this draft legislation in Russia that severely restricts freedom of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals and, indeed, for all Russians," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
"You know how strongly we feel about LGBT rights around the world, how strongly the secretary of state personally feels that nobody should be discriminated against for who they love," she told reporters.
Russia's parliament gave initial backing to the bill Friday in a 388-1 vote in the first of three readings hours after police detained more than 20 mostly young opponents who staged a "kiss-in" protest outside the State Duma.
The nationwide proposal is based on local laws already passed in Putin's native city of Saint Petersburg and five other Russian regions.
Several of the bill's most ardent proponents said they were protecting Russia from what they perceived as excessively tolerant attitudes in other countries.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already discussed the issue with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over a year ago, Nuland said.
The US comments come at a time of renewed tensions with Moscow over civil liberties and human rights in Russia.
The bill in its current form prohibits "the propaganda of homosexual behaviour among minors." Activists worry that the vague wording could lead to gays being fined for demonstrating or even holding hands in public.
It also sets out fines for violations of up to 5,000 rubles ($165) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for officials.