IRAN — Iran’s top religious official said on Sunday that the country will be able to recognize gay couples, the first step toward a more open society.
The ruling system has long restricted homosexuality and has been slow to change.
Religious conservatives often have a hard time finding partners, so the number of gay people has been decreasing in Iran for years.
A statement from the religious leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was released in response to an interview with the conservative weekly Fars News Agency.
“As a matter of principle, we will allow marriage for all and we will not restrict any group of people to marriage,” Khamenei said.
He said that he hopes that “a new way” of life will emerge, adding that “there is no need for any kind of discrimination” in religious matters.
Gay couples have been allowed to enter Iranian prisons since the 1980s, but their access to the public has been limited.
Iranian media reported that on Sunday, a gay couple were granted entry to the country’s prison.
The couple will be allowed to visit their loved ones, but will not be allowed outside the prison walls.
The country has also had an ongoing civil war that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
Gay rights groups and human rights groups say the war has resulted in a culture of persecution against gay people.
The United States, the European Union and a number of international organizations have called on Iran to respect the rights of gay Iranians, while condemning the persecution of gays.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.