Russian parliament gives initial backing to law banning gender change surgery

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, gave its initial backing on Wednesday to legislation that would ban gender reassignment surgery.

The move was in line with a drive by President Vladimir Putin to crack down on "non-traditional" lifestyles he has portrayed as evidence of Western moral decay.

The legislation would ban state agencies from changing a person's gender in their personal documents. It would outlaw "any medical interventions aimed at shaping a person's primary and secondary sex characteristics", according to a document posted in the Duma's database.

The only exception would be surgery "aimed at treating congenital anomalies in children", the draft legislation said.

The law on Wednesday passed the first of three required readings in the Duma. New legislation also needs approval from the upper house before being sent to Putin for signing.

Putin and other top officials and church leaders have frequently portrayed acceptance of gay and transgender people in the West as evidence that societies there have lost their moral compass.

The head of parliament's upper house, Valentina Matviyenko, said in a message to mark International Women's Day in March that Russia would never play "dangerous gender games", adding: "Let us leave it to the West to conduct this dangerous experiment on itself."

Parliament last year passed a new law which critics say effectively bans representation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in public and in the media.

(Reporting by Reuters reporters Writing by Filipp Lebedev and Mark TrevelyanEditing by Gareth Jones)