The bill, dubbed the "slapping law," decriminalizes a first offense of domestic violence that does not seriously injure the person, making it a less serious administrative offense. The bill also includes violence against children.
More than 85% of legislators in Russia's Duma approved the bill -- seen as part of President Vladimir Putin's drive to appease conservative pushing "traditional family values" -- on Wednesday in its second reading. It will need a third reading and vote before going to the upper house and then to the president to sign into law.
The bill's sponsors, including conservative senator Yelena Mizulina, say the proposed law would simply bring family law into line with reforms passed last summer that loosened punishment for other minor assaults.
Mizulina, a staunch proponent of traditional values, was also the author of Russia's controversial "gay propaganda law," which prohibits "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships."
The Russian Orthodox Church, with its emphasis on the traditional family, is also influencing the debate. So are the traditional rules of Russian family life, including the "domostroi," a centuries-old manual prescribing strict rules of behavior and requiring absolute submission to the head of the family.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether domestic violence should be decriminalized, but told journalists that "creating solid families is a priority. It's what everyone needs."
'Huge step backward,' Human Rights Watch says
Women's rights groups have vocally opposed the bill, saying that decriminalizing assaults will only encourage more violence in a country where the rate of assaults in homes are relatively high.
Human Rights Watch has urged parliament to reject the law, calling it "dangerous and incompatible with Russia's international human rights obligations."
"Passage of this law would be a huge step backward for Russia, where victims of domestic violence already face enormous obstacles to getting help or justice," said Human Rights Watch Russia researcher, Yulia Gorbunova.
Activist Alena Popova has launched a petition on Change.org
demanding that the Duma pass a completely new law against domestic violence. More than 224,000 people have signed it.
When asked whether Russia needed a separate domestic violence law, Peskov told reporters Wednesday that the current bill was also aimed at preventing violence.
"If you take a look at the bill, responsibility (must be taken) in the case of a repeat offense. So over-exaggerating the responsibility for displays of family relationships would not be appropriate," he said.
"Undoubtedly, there should be responsibility, there should be regulatory legislation which could prevent domestic violence, but comparing domestic violence to separate cases of minor importance from a legal point of view, is hardly appropriate."
Official data on domestic violence in Russia is not centrally collected so it's difficult to verify. But state-run news agency RIA Novosti has reported that 40% of serious crimes in Russia are committed in the family, 36,000 women are beaten by their husbands daily, and 12,000 women die yearly as a result of domestic violence -- one woman every 44 minutes.