March 10, 2014
From Russia With Love
Two Russian men tied the knot in downtown Buenos Aires yesterday, seeing Argentina’s marriage equality law as a potential refuge for the discrimination they would face back home in the Olympic city of Sochi.
The couple aren’t the first Russians to request and obtain political asylum in Argentina, but yesterday marked the first time a same-sex couple from the country has gone public with their plans, according to the gay-rights activists who made sure to publicize the event to local and international media that packed the civil registry in the San Nicolás neighbourhood yesterday morning.
A strangely cool February freeze was blowing up Uruguay street just before midday yesterday when, from the bustle of yellow taxis and hooting buses, Russian nationals Alexander Eremeev and Dimitri Zaytsev emerged to front the cameras to confirm their plans for a midday wedding.
“They don’t speak Spanish,” their activist friends explained to the sizeable crowd of journalists.
Dressed in matching outfits, which featured pinned-on flowers with the colours of the Russian flag, they walked hand-in-hand, their eyes fixated on the doors of the marriage office, in an act that could be considered a criminal offence in modern Russia, where a law prohibiting “gay propaganda” was passed just last year, effectively prohibiting anyone from acknowledging being part of a sexual minority.
“They’ve come to seek political asylum. They can’t go back to Russia because they’ll be arrested,” explained gay-rights activist Alex Freyre, who wed José María Di Bello in December 2009, in what was the first same-sex marriage in Argentina. Freyre described Eremeev and 35-year-old Zaytsev as “heroes.”
For his part, and with the help of a Russian interpreter, 47-year-old tourism operator Eremeev seemed to take a more conciliatory tone when addressing the media.
He explained on behalf of the couple that they had come to Argentina simply to build a better life for themselves.
“We want to live in a place where we feel most comfortable, where we’re welcome,” he said.
Recently approved laws in their homeland had placed a question- mark over their safety, agreed Eremeev, who noted that he was still “optimistic” about a future in his homeland.
“If we’re afraid of all the risks (in Russia), change won’t happen,” he declared.
Eremeev said their status as a same-sex couple in Sochi put them at risk of violence, both from the police and by members of a society in which many continue to look down on gay people.
They left Russia two months ago, announcing their plans to a select group of friends and family, before a symbolic wedding ceremony in Thailand.
The LGBT activists in attendance yesterday were at pains to draw an international context around Eremeev and Zaytsev’s big day, which concluded with a kiss, witnesses’ signatures, and a photo with the jovial Judge José Luís Badur.
They cited the Ugandan government’s declaration on Monday that sex between two consenting men would be made punishable with a maximum 14-year prison sentence.
Request for asylum from sexual minorities that hail from Russia, as well as other countries that punish homosexuality, are growing in the United States and Europe.
But yesterday's focus was clearly on the host of the latest Olympic Games, whose far-reaching anti-gay legislation Freyre criticized on a number of fronts.
“Russia has introduced a measure that blocks those of us from countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting Russian children. It reaffirms Russia’s homophobic position,” he said.
Argentina’s National Commission for Refugees will have 20 days to review the couple’s case.
“We hope that Argentina will accept us and that it will give us the possibility to live here legally with the necessary documentation,” Eremeev concluded. “We want to dedicate ourselves to our business, to be good people who respect the law, and to form our family.”@jaysonmcnamara