RIGA - Parliament completed its second reading of proposed anti-discrimination amendments to the Penal Code last week, throwing right-wing church leaders into a flurry of protest over the draft's mentioning of homosexuals. The amendments would make it a criminal offense to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender, age, race, religious beliefs, or for other reasons. Offenders could be punished with fines of up to 40 minimum wages, community service, or even up to two years in jail.
On Jan. 27, a number of church leaders and politicians asked the Christian-oriented Latvia's First Party to stop the amendments from being passed.
"Homosexual relationships are a grave sin," said Cardinal Janis Pujats, leader of Latvia's Roman Catholic Church, in his address to the party congress. "Sexual energy is very powerful, but it is good only if it is harnessed and restricted by God's commandments and decency. It is dangerous when homosexuals are granted protection of the law."
He added that the state had no right to allow gays and lesbians to marry, adopt children, or work as teachers.
"It is not normal when two homosexual males indulge in their un-chastity," Cardinal Pujats said. "It would not be normal if a homosexual teacher taught children about tolerance and homosexuality."
Deputy Head of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Peteris Bruveris, during his speech to the party congress, urged Latvia's First to "protect family values."
Bruveris made sure to note that many of Latvia's Lutherans are party supporters, and hence their opinions should be given some weight by the party.
Representatives from the Russian Orthodox and Baptist churches also gave speeches criticizing the amendments.
Yet, not everyone at the congress was adamantly opposed to the Penal Code's most recent amendments. Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis, a representative of Latvia's Way, called for a more moderate response to the proposed amendments.
While acknowledging that Latvia's First has the right to defend its values, Godmanis said this did not entitle the party to reproach and humiliate homosexuals.
"We can defend our party values, but nobody should condemn those who think differently," the minister said.
The Penal Code amendments drew further ire from Latvia's teachers, 226 of whom signed a letter asking Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis to veto the legislation.
In their letter, the teachers argued that the amendments, if passed, would effectively make open defense of Latvia's "cultural values" a crime, pointing out that those who protest displays of homosexuality could face jail time.
In response to the letter, Kalvitis has requested that Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins provide more detailed information about the proposed amendments. The PM has not yet directly addressed the teachers' requests.
Meanwhile, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Jana Saulite said the ministry is still undecided about whether to recall the amendments or let them pass. Ultimately, the Justice Minister will have to make the final decision. As for now, Saulite said that Berzins is "still considering the issue."
Parliament has already passed the Penal Code amendments in two readings, but has not yet begun the third and final reading. The legislation will then go to the president, who must sign it into law.