The new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill I, has stated his opposition to discrimination against homosexuals, in a seeming about-face on comments he made as a spokesman for the church before the death of his predecessor, Alexy II, in 2008.
During a meeting in Strasbourg on December 23, Patriarch Kirill I told the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, that a person’s sexuality was a personal matter.
“We respect the person’s free choice, including in sex relations,” Patriarch Kirill said.
“The religious tradition of almost all nations has treated homosexuality as a sin. [But] those who commit a sin must not be punished.
“We have repeatedly spoken out against discriminating [against] people for their non-traditional sexual orientation.”
As a spokesman for the church, Kirill told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine in January 2008, “Morality is either absolute or it does not exist — if you excuse homosexuality, why not excuse pedophilia?”
The Russian Orthodox Church has been a leading force behind the opposition to holding pride events in Russia.
Orthodox priests and laity carrying icons have been a regular spectacle at anti-gay protests in Moscow over the past five years.
The European Court of Human Rights had given Russia until this month to answer complaints relating to the banning of Moscow Pride events in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In most years protesters were beaten by right-wing activists before being jailed by police.
However, the court has granted Russia an extension until May 20.
The next Moscow Pride is scheduled for May 29 this year and will be the fifth time that gay and lesbian Russians have attempted to hold a public gathering in their capital city.
Russia has an equal age of consent and allows gays to serve in its military. Single people may adopt regardless of sexuality.
However, there are no laws protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in housing or employment and Moscow authorities have persistently denied their right to free assembly.

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