MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow has banned a gay parade planned to coincide with its hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest because it will "destroy morals" in the capital, a spokesman for the city's mayor said Thursday.
Gay rights activists have staged small unsanctioned parades in Moscow without government approval over the past few years. But they have faced arrests and severe beatings by anti-gay and neo-fascist groups.
"The Moscow government is saying: Moscow has never had gay parades and it never will," said Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's spokesman, Sergei Tsoi. "Not only do they destroy morals within our society, but they consciously provoke disorder which threatens the lives of Muscovites and visitors."
Parade organizer and prominent gay rights activist Nikolai Alekseyev said on his website www.gayrussia.ru that the event would take place anyway.
"This is our right and it is guaranteed by the constitution. No official, including the Moscow mayor, has the right to violate it," Alekseyev said.
But Luzhkov's spokesman said any attempt to hold an unsanctioned gay parade would be "toughly stopped by law enforcement agencies in accordance with the law."
Luzhkov, who has been mayor of Moscow since 1992, once said gay parades were "a satanic act"
Russia did not decriminalize gay sex until 1993, two years after the Soviet Union's collapse, and intolerance is widespread.
Moscow has no gay-friendly district and the homosexual scene is still largely underground. Public displays of affection between same-sex couples are rare.
The gay parade, scheduled for May 16, was meant to coincide with Moscow's hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest. Activists had asked that competitors back homosexual rights on stage.
A Swiss-based Eurovision spokesman, currently in Moscow, declined to comment on the banning of the parade but said: "It's not a secret that we have a large gay audience and we respect everyone's backgrounds."
Reporting by Aydar Buribayev and Amie Ferris-Rotman, editing by Mark Trevelyan