RIGA - The appointment of outspoken minister Janis Smits as Parliament's new human rights committee head was called into question again after Smits, a member of Latvia's First Party, called on gay people to keep their sexuality behind closed doors. In an interview with the Neatkariga daily, Smits said homosexuality was a consequence of human lewdness and a sin that might cost people eternal life.
He called on gay people to "repent from their sins" and "return to a 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 triggered criticism and raised concerns about the appropriateness of Smits' appointment, which was challenged by several non-governmental organizations. The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, also voiced concerns about Smits' appointment.
Prior to Smits appointment, several groups said Smits had propagated homophobia and ignored human rights, but to no avail.
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," he said.
"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 seemed to suggest that by banning public meetings of gays and lesbians the government was actually protecting them, an opinion that has been echoed by other members of Latvia's First Party.
"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,Â» he said.
Smits also said that Latvia had been discussing human rights in a very narrow sense 's either national minorities or homosexuality.
"The human rights committee also has to deal with the Liv national minority problems, the demographic situation, noncitizens, 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 even claimed that Christianity was being discriminated against in Europe.
"If I were a Muslim, nobody would dare protest my right to voice my beliefs publicly in Europe. There is tolerance against representatives of other religions. But there is discrimination against Christianity," said Smits.