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Michigan city council votes to sever ties with Russian 'sister city' over anti-gay law

By Nicole Saidi, CNN
updated 8:07 PM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lansing's city council votes to end "sister cities" relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia
  • A new Russian law bars public discussion of gay rights and relationships near children
  • But the mayor wants to keep the relationship to increase "progressive dialogue"
  • Amd a local commission says that there's really no current "sister city" link to sever

(CNN) -- Relationship breakdowns can happen to anyone -- even to cities.

After nearly 20 years of building ties with their "sister city" of St. Petersburg, Russia, leaders in Lansing, Michigan, have found a key sticking point -- Russia's clampdown on discussion of gay issues.

The city council in Michigan's capital voiced its concerns over Russian anti-gay policies on Monday by adopting a resolution calling for an end to the "sister cities" relationship with St. Petersburg. Local news site MLive.com reported that the vote was unanimous.

Russia has been drawing controversy for a recently enacted law that bars the public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere that children could overhear.

City council member Jody Washington first brought the matter before the city council during a meeting last month.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero had issued a statement saying that while he opposes the "oppression of the LGBT community in Russia," he also hopes to maintain the relationship with St. Petersburg, which began in 1994 with a Russian-language high school exchange program.

"I encourage the city council and the commission to issue a resolution condemning the violence and discrimination in Russia," Bernero said. "We must denounce the bigotry, but we should not sever the sister city relationship, because we have the potential for progressive dialogue between citizens."

Meanwhile, a local agency said Tuesday there's really no relationship to sever, according to MLive.com. Lansing Regional Sisters Commission President Barbara Roberts Mason said it was only one district within St. Petersburg that was the sister city for Lansing, and that "ceased abruptly" when the governmental structure of St. Petersburg changed years ago.

But the issue that triggered Monday's council vote is just one reflection from an international spotlight that is being cast on Russia ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi early next year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the anti-gay law, which took effect last month. It has been condemned by Russian and international rights groups as highly discriminatory.

Gay rights group All Out delivered a 320,000-signature petition to the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, earlier this month.

The petition urges the IOC to condemn the law and urges Russia to ensure the security of all visitors, athletes and Russian people before, during, and after the Games.

The IOC said that it had "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games."

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