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Gay Couple Who Ignited Russian Same-Sex Marriage Debacle Go Into Hiding

The newlyweds are said to have been receiving death threats.

A gay couple who claimed to have had their marriage recognized in Russia by way of a bureaucratic loophole have gone into hiding after facing legal persecution.

Pavel Stotzko and Eugene Wojciechowski are believed to have left Russia after an apparent standoff with police, The Guardian reported Monday. Members of the local activist group, Russian LGBT Network, said the entrance to Stotzko and Wojciechowski’s Moscow apartment had been blocked over the weekend by officers, who were attempting to confiscate the couple’s passports. The apartment’s electricity and internet access were turned off for several hours, the group wrote on Facebook.

By Monday, the men had handed their passports over to authorities and had relocated to “a safe location,” Russian LGBT Network members wrote in a second Facebook post.

Stotzko and Wojciechowski are believed to have left the country, The Guardian and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty both reported. (All Russians over 16 are required to have internal passports that document their place of residence and marital status. A separate, external passport must be used for foreign travel.)

Human rights activist Igor Kochetkov told The Moscow Times that he’d helped the couple, who had been receiving death threats, to flee.

“The police officers declared openly that they could not protect [the pair] from attacks from homophobically minded citizens and organizations. This was a hidden threat,” Kochetkov said. “Therefore the decision was made that for now, they must leave Russia.”

Stotzko and Wojciechowski were married in Copenhagen on Jan. 4. When they returned to Moscow last week, they presented their passports to a customs officer, along with their Danish marriage certificate. The officer stamped the marital status page in Stotzko and Wojciechowski’s passports and filled their names in.

Russian law states marriages that were registered abroad will be recognized if they do not “contradict article 14 of the Family Code,” according to The Moscow Times. Though polygamous unions and marriages between close relatives are prohibited, the law does not mention same-sex couples.

Hence, the men interpreted their passport stamps as legal recognition of their union. Their story made international headlines and was touted as a rare LGBTQ-rights victory in Russia, where same-sex couples are not permitted to wed.

Their happiness, however, was short-lived. After news of the couple’s story broke this weekend, Russia’s Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk told RT that Voytsekhovsky and Stotsko’s passports were marked as invalid in a federal database. The customs officer who stamped the passports and her direct supervisor, she added, were fired for “committing violations of Russian legislation.”

Russia’s stance on LGBTQ issues has been the subject of global scrutiny in recent years. In 2013, the country adopted a controversial law forbidding distribution of “gay propaganda” to minors.

Over the past year, lawmakers have repeatedly dismissed troubling allegations that gay men are being detained, tortured and even killed in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

Clarification: The article has been amended to include information describing Russia’s use of internal and external passports.

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