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Catholics Show Support for Gay Rights at Latvian Conference

June 1, 2007

Group Urges Public and Policymakers to Stand Strong against Homophobia and for Human Rights

RIGA, Latvia—Catholics for a Free Choice European representative Elfriede Harth (Latvian: Elvira Hardt), speaking at the Riga Friendship Days and Pride Celebration, assured the gay, lesbian and transgender community in Latvia and around the world that despite the rhetoric and actions of the Catholic hierarchy against equality and justice, the gay community has the support of many rank and file Catholics. Catholics in the pews stand with them in solidarity, especially in the face of the aggressive anti-gay sentiment that has been expressed in recent days by extremists in Eastern Europe. Ms. Harth is appearing as part of the conference on “Family Models, Diversity and Equality,” which was originally scheduled at the Riga Congress Hall, but was forced to move  to the Islande Hotel due to threats of a blockade by anti-gay protestors.

Elfriede Harth, in her speech, reminded the audience of gay and human rights activists that the hierarchy’s pronouncements on matters of justice related to sexual and reproductive health do not represent the views of most Catholics. Commenting on the necessity for laws that ensure the stability and security of gay couples and their families, she urged Latvian politicians to listen to the voice of the majority who are supportive of equal rights, not the increasingly shrill and extreme views of the Catholic hierarchy. Harth said, “Policymakers should remember that Catholics want legislation that protects and enables family life. They want legislation that permits meaningful, stable loving relationships, not bigotry and hatred.”

Catholics for a Free Choice regrets that the current Catholic hierarchy often lacks the sort of leadership and pastoral concern that would show true Christian love and respect for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. It is a tragedy that once again we see this in the actions of Cardinal Janis Pujats of Riga, who, instead of urging calm, did the exact opposite, issuing many statements in recent weeks exacerbating and giving succor to those who oppose gay equality. As first published in the Latvian paper Ritienda, he said laws that would create protections for gay families and individuals were “a true military attack against the nation’s morality, religion and family values.” Furthermore, he encouraged people to take to the streets to protest the peaceful Riga Pride gathering—the same situation that resulted in violence directed at supporters of gay rights last year.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, stated, “It’s vital that those who stand for equality and understanding in the world are not dissuaded by the anti-gay rhetoric of the Catholic hierarchy or the homophobic hate of extremist groups. We will support all initiatives that seek to ensure equal rights for gay men and women. If the Catholic hierarchy really wants to show itself to be pro-family, they should do no less.”