The appointment of Latvia's new human rights committee head, priest Janis Smits, has again been called into question after the fundamentalist Christian called on gay people to keep their sexuality behind closed doors.
In an interview with the Latvian press, Smits said homosexuality was a consequence of human lewdness and a sin that might cost people eternal life.
He called on gay people to "return from their sins" and "recover normal sexual orientation." Yet, in the same interview, he said gay people had the same rights and obligations as any Latvian citizen.
The divisive remarks have again raised concerns about the appropriateness of Smits' appointment, which was challenged by several non-governmental organizations. Prior to his selection, several groups said Smits had propagated homophobia and ignored human rights. The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, also voiced concerns about Smits' appointment.
Smits said what happens in people's bedrooms should not be brought out to the streets and that their opinions should not be imposed on others, a reference to the 2005 gay pride parade in Riga. Smits' upheld Luxembourg and Israel as nations where gay parades had never been held.
"The only thing I can do is call on these people to return from their sins, be healed by God and recover normal sexual orientation. I am consistent. I do not call for any activities against homosexual people. God loves all his creatures, also those who have sinned, and all the people need the grace and forgiveness of God," said Smits.
He added that "it is the only way to ensure that there is no violence and there is a balance between human rights and obligations."
"We should do everything to avoid such a situation as in Sweden when the skinheads threw stones on the parade, or in Estonia where there was violence and bodily damages," he said.
Smits also said that Latvia had been discussing human rights in a very narrow sense -- either national minorities or homosexuality. "The human rights committee also has to deal with the Liv national minority problems, the demographic situation, non-citizens, foreign citizens, stateless persons, asylum seekers, repatriation issues, children's rights, youth problems, integration issues, public issues, radio, television, the press, holiday issues, and many other questions," said the committee chairman.
He added that the Christianity was being discriminated in Europe. "If I were a Muslim, nobody would dare protest my right to voice my belief publicly in Europe. There is tolerance against representatives of other religions. But there is discrimination against Christianity," said Smits.