Single men who became fathers via surrogacy are fleeing Russia as conservative politicians seek to entrench big heterosexual families with two parents as the only socially approved form of household.
Alexander, a single father from Moscow, fled Russia after seeing a story on the state news agency TASS that authorities were planning on arresting single men who used surrogacy to have children.
“The investigators are planning to arrest more suspects including single Russian men who used surrogate mothers to have babies via IVF treatment,” an official quoted in the story said last week, alleging that the men were not eligible to use surrogacy services “because of their non-traditional sexual orientation”.
“I saw that news story and messaged my friends: I thought I was dreaming. It was insane,” Alexander who asked his last name to be withheld for security reasons told the Telegraph.
“I bought plane tickets for the easiest-to-reach destination and left.”
A recent criminal case which accused Russia’s top fertility doctors of child trafficking has unleashed the wrath of conservative politicians, zeroing in on single men who became parents thanks to surrogate mothers.
Surrogacy is legal in Russia but that did not stop the country’s top investigative body, the Investigative Committee, from bringing child trafficking charges against nine people, including four fertility doctors, claiming that they “violated the Russian legislation regulating the use of assisted reproductive technology.”
The investigation was launched after police registered the death of a newborn in a flat outside Moscow in January. The child, born to a surrogate mother, was kept at the apartment while his biological parents were dealing with paperwork. The baby later died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Case files reviewed by the Telegraph show how the criminal probe has tilted towards anti-gay sentiment.
An investigator in recent questioning of Taras Ashitkov, a highly respected obstetrician and member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, asked the doctor before he was jailed if he had noticed if one of the men who used surrogacy services “behaved in a strange way” or “showed any signs of homosexuality.”
A few other single men who became parents via surrogacy have fled Russia in recent days, spooked by official threats, according to attorney Konstantin Svitnev who said that a few more people received calls from investigators but have not been officially summoned for questioning.
Russian law explicitly allows IVF treatments for couples and single women struggling to carry a pregnancy. It makes no mention of single fathers, however, which made it possible for Mr Svitnev to successfully defend the parenting rights of hundreds of single men, citing the Russian Constitution which bars any form of discrimination.
There are no legal grounds to go after single parents in Russia even if they happen to be gay but President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly conservative rhetoric in recent years emboldened a large number of politicians to push for legislation effectively discriminating LGBT people and prioritising traditional heterosexual marriage.