MOSCOW -- The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says that, although the church views homosexuality as a sin, homosexuality is a personal choice.
Patriarch Kirill says gays and lesbians must not be persecuted or discriminated against in any way, though the church still opposes same-sex marriages.
The patriarch's statements, a breakthrough for the Russian church, were made during a meeting Wednesday with visiting Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland.
Opposition to gay rights remains widespread in Russia, where homosexuality was decriminalized only in 1993.
Several high-profile Russian politicians have spoken against gay rights. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov has described homosexuality as "satanic" and blamed homosexuals for spreading AIDS.