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Originally published Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 2:12 AM

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Lech Walesa shocks some Poles with anti-gay words

Lech Walesa, the democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner, has sparked controversy and outrage in Poland by saying that in his view gays have no right to a prominent role in politics and that as a minority they need to "adjust to smaller things" in society.

Associated Press

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WARSAW, Poland —

Lech Walesa, the democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner, has sparked controversy and outrage in Poland by saying that in his view gays have no right to a prominent role in politics and that as a minority they need to "adjust to smaller things" in society.

Some commentators are now suggesting that Walesa, the leading figure in Poland's successful democracy struggle against communism, has irreparably harmed his legacy.

Walesa said in a television interview on Friday that he believes gays have no right to sit on the front benches in parliament and, if there at all, should sit in the back, "or even behind a wall."

"They have to know that they are a minority and adjust to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights," he told the private broadcaster TVN during a discussion of gay rights. "A minority should not impose itself on the majority."

In some ways the uproar says as much about Poland today as it does about Walesa - or possibly more. Walesa, Poland's first democratic-era president, is a deeply conservative Roman Catholic and a father of eight who has never advocated progressive social views.

The democracy he helped create in 1989 from the turmoil of strikes and other protests has, however, been undergoing a profound social transformation in recent years.

A key symbol of the change in this European Union member is a new willingness to tackle gay rights - long a taboo subject. In 2011, the first openly gay lawmaker and the first transsexual were elected to parliament in historic firsts for the country. The two have become a constant presence in the public eye since, while lawmakers have recently been debating a civil partnership law. Though lawmakers struck down three proposals for such a law recently, the discussions continue.

Some predicted the consequences for Walesa's comments on gays could be serious.

A national committee devoted to fighting hate speech and other crimes filed a complaint with prosecutors on Sunday in Gdansk, Walesa's home city, accusing him of promoting a "propaganda of hate against a sexual minority."

Others questioned whether he would continue to be considered a moral authority at all despite his past achievements.

Walesa is no longer active in Polish political life, though he is often interviewed and asked his opinion on current affairs, like on Friday, when he was asked about his views on civil partnerships and a new public gay rights campaign. Much of his time is spent giving lectures internationally on his role in fighting communism and on issues of peace and democracy.

Some Polish commentators questioned whether anyone would consult him as a moral authority now.

"From a human point of view his language was appalling. It was the statement of a troglodyte," said Jerzy Wenderlich, a deputy speaker of parliament with the Democratic Left Alliance.

"Now nobody in their right mind will invite Lech Walesa as a moral authority, knowing what he said," Wenderlich said.

Some, however, said they were not surprised by Walesa's words.

"I am surprised that only now we are noticing that Walesa is not in control of what he says and that he has views that are far from being politically correct," said Adam Bielan, a conservative Polish member of the European Parliament.

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