Strasbourg Court Says Russia's Banning of Gay Marches Violates Article 14

London, 25 November 2010

On 21 October 2010, the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Alekseyev v Russia (application nos. 4916/07, 25924/08 and 14599/09) found that freedom of peaceful assembly should be guaranteed without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, irrespective of the moral and religious beliefs of the majority of society. The Court held that the banning of gay pride marches due to the anticipated violent reactions and threat to public order could not be justified as necessary in a democratic society and was therefore a violation of both Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  

In this case, the mayor of Moscow had refused to grant permission for several gay pride marches to take place, between 2006 and 2008, on the grounds that they would provoke disorder and violence against the participants in the march. The domestic courts had upheld the decisions of the mayor and rejected the challenges of Mr Alekseyev who had been responsible for organising the marches.

Rejecting the Russian government’s argument that its decision to ban the public marches organised by Mr Alekseyev was justified by its obligation to protect the rights of those people whose religious and moral beliefs included a negative attitude towards homosexuality, the Court stated that:

“[I]t would be incompatible with the underlying values of the Convention if the exercise of Convention rights by a minority group were made conditional on its being accepted by the majority”.

The Court unanimously held that the banning of the gay marches in Moscow was a breach of both Article 11 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Referring to the earlier case of Kozak v Poland, it reiterated that sexual orientation is a concept covered by Article 14, and stated that:


“[W]hen the distinction in question operates in this intimate and vulnerable sphere of an individual’s private life, particularly weighty reasons need to be advanced before the Court to justify the measure complained of. Where a difference of treatment is based on sex or sexual orientation the margin of appreciation afforded to the State is narrow, and in such situations the principle of proportionality does not merely require the measure chosen to be suitable in general for realising the aim sought; it must also be shown that it was necessary in the circumstances. Indeed, if the reasons advanced for a difference in treatment were based solely on the applicant’s sexual orientation, this would amount to discrimination under the Convention.”

Speaking about the recent decision, ERT’s Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said: 

“The European Court has confirmed that differential treatment based on sexual orientation cannot be justified, irrespective of any attempted justification relating to public safety or public morals. In confirming that states will be kept on a very tight rein when making decisions relating to public displays of sexual orientation, the Court has sent out an important message, not only to the signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights but also to States across the globe, that persons of a different sexual orientation have equal rights which cannot be overweighed by arguments in favour of the “superior” rights of the sexual majority.” 

To read a summary of this case, please click here