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August 8th, 2013
05:20 PM ET

2014 Olympics brings test on gay rights

Russia's law banning gay propaganda has garnered criticism from the White House, and called into question how gay athletes will be treated during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Russian officials seem to be walking back some of their comments on what the ban means. Russian sports minister Vitali Mutko said Thursday, "The law is not intended to limit or violate the the rights of citizens of any country, any religion, any preferences. The law is against propaganda, among the underage."

Former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and NewYorker.com writer Richard Socarides said those words are not reassuring, and the nature of the law, and what constitutes propaganda remains vague.

"You could basically be arrested at any point for doing anything," said Socarides.

"There's an enormous problem here. First of all, respect to athletes and visitors, but also with respect to the human rights violations on their citizens. I mean, what they are trying to do is they're trying to outlaw talking about something," said Socarides.

President Barack Obama criticized the law Tuesday, saying he had 'no patience' for Russia's anti-gay law.  He has also talked about gay rights issues in several countries around the world when asked about it.

"He's certainly set the right tone already. Speaking about it in a very public way and saying that it's not something that we would tolerate in this country. And sending a clear message to the Russians that we expect them to abide by, you know, generally accepted human rights policies during the Olympics ... is an important first step," said Socarides.

Going forward, said Socarides, the president, Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. diplomats should be actively involved in getting the anti-gay law in Russia changed.

But athletes should not boycott the Olympics, said Socarides.

"A boycott really only deprives our very own athletes who have practiced, and who are ready to do their best of having that opportunity," said Socarides.

Instead, Socarides said, people should stage respectful protests during the games, to demonstrate that the U.S. supports all citizens and expects Russia, and any other country hosting an Olympics, to grant the same human rights to its citizens.

"We can send a very powerful message when we're there," said Socarides.

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