LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Britain is to send the government minister responsible for the country's recently passed same sex marriage laws to next month's Winter Olympics in Russia, where a row over gay rights has clouded the build-up to the event.
Western criticism of Russia's anti-gay policies ahead of the Winter Olympics, starting on Feb. 7 in the southern Russian city of Sochi, has threatened to take the gloss off President Vladimir Putin's $50 billion showpiece.
On Wednesday a British government spokeswoman confirmed that Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who steered last year's same-sex couples act through a divided British parliament to legalise gay marriage in England and Wales, would attend on Britain's behalf.
"Maria Miller has been a staunch champion of gay equality here in Britain," said Sam Dick, Director of Campaigns, at Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual campaign group.
"We're sure that her experience of facing down those who oppose equality will stand her in good stead to raise the very real concerns facing gay people in Russia."
U.S. President Barack Obama included three openly gay athletes in his Olympic delegation and made clear the decision was to send a message to Russian authorities.
Russia passed a law last year banning what it called the spread of homosexual propaganda among minors.
Senior government figures from Germany, France and the United States have said they will not attend, without linking the decision to the issue of gay rights.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who says he has repeatedly raised the question of gay rights with Putin, is not expected to attend the event, though his office said his plans had not yet been finalised.
Sources close to Cameron said a decision not to go would not be politically motivated, stressing that the prime minister did not usually attend Winter Olympics anyway. (Reporting by William James; Editing by Mike Collett-White)