Eight-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao apologized on Tuesday for describing lesbian and gay people as "worse than animals" after his remarks sparked a firestorm of criticism in his native Philippines.
Nearing the end of a glorious decades-long boxing career, Pacquiao, 37, is running for a Senate seat there and is reinventing himself as a conservative Bible-bearing politician before the country's elections in May.
"I'm sorry for comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those I've hurt," he said in a video post on Instagram, his arms crossed.
He said he was not condemning homosexuals but was standing by his conservative Christian faith. "I love you all with the love of the Lord. I am praying for you."
Pacquiao told television station TV5 earlier this week, "It's common sense. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female … If men mate with men and women mate with women, they are worse than animals."
Gay marriage is outlawed in the Philippines largely because of strong opposition from the Catholic Church; 80 percent of the country's 100 million people subscribe to the faith.
Same-sex marriages are officiated at small churches but are not recognized by the mainstream church or the state.
Singer Aiza Seguerra, who recently married her actress girlfriend, called on voters to boycott Pacquiao — who is preparing for his last boxing fight in April — calling him an "ignorant, bigoted hypocrite."
"You might have done our country proud but with your statement, you just showed the whole country why we shouldn't vote for you," Seguerra said in a post on Instagram.
Pacquiao gave the television interview as part of his campaign for one of 12 seats up for election this year in the nationally elected Senate.
He currently represents his wife's impoverished home province of Sarangani in the House of Representatives but is notorious for his chronic absences, favoring boxing training over legislation.
In one of the rare times he spoke at the legislature, Pacquiao quoted heavily from the Bible as he vigorously contested a proposed law, since passed, granting free condoms to the poor.
He credits his renewed Christian faith for transforming him from a free-spending womanizer and gambler into a devoted family man who can recite Bible verses.
"Outside the boxing ring, I don't think Manny Pacquiao should be taken seriously. It struck me first as funny. I pity him," Kakay Pamaran, a pastor at one of Manila's gay churches, told AFP.
"I would advise him to talk to more LGBT persons, meet them and not just reduce his concept of LGBT to the sexual act."