Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday said he was sorry for telling his health minister he did not "want to think you're a lesbian," when the official talked to another woman while the leader was giving a speech.

The 56-year-old leftist leader offered his "humble and sincere" apologies in a statement published by his government's Ministry of Communications.

"To say, to ask or to think that somebody is lesbian or gay is not an insult, nor an offense," Morales noted. "I and the government do not have anything against anybody's sexual options. We respect diversity, and that is what we say in our [Constitution]. ... It was not my intention to offend anybody."

The leader's clarification came after a number of human rights groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists in Bolivia harshly criticized Morales for his comments. The critics issued a joint declaration, dubbing the president's statement a "discourse of intolerance and discrimination that derides the rights of other and, in this case, suggests that being a lesbian marks a defect," according to the local daily El Día.

Former President Jorge Quiroga also joined the debate, chiding Morales for what he called "the incredible mistreatment" of Health Minister Ariana Campero and an "offense to a Bolivian woman," the newspaper detailed.

The fallout from Morales' remark to Campero on Monday was not the first time the former union leader has faced accusations of sexism and homophobia, Agence France-Presse reported.

In 2010, he claimed at an environmental summit that chickens injected with female hormones cause male consumers to "experience deviances in being men." Two years later, he was observed laughing along at a series of dirty verses sung during a carnival celebration that women's rights activists and opposition leaders deemed inappropriate.

Meanwhile, Morales' vice president, Álvaro García, recently got himself into hot water as well, when he recommended that Campero, 29, tie the knot, AFP added.

"Get married, minister," García told the official at a public event, warning her against "showing your boyfriend 'just how much you love him'" outside of matrimony and saying that such behavior could leave her a single parent.