Howard Dean, the pro-gay Democrat candidate for the US presidency, has hit back at Republican senator Rich Santorum’s statements comparing homosexuality to incest, adultery and bigamy.

Santorum made the claim last week in response to a pending Supreme Court judgment, which could stop Texas legalising consensual anal sex between Texan men.

If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything, Santorum told the Associated Press.

Dean released a statement last week calling for Santorum to stand down, and challenging the Bush administration to deal with homophobia in its ranks.

That a leader of the Republican Party would make such insensitive and divisive comments -“ comments that are derogatory and meant to harm an entire group of Americans, their friends and their families -“ is not only outrageous, but deeply offensive, Dean said.

Dean, the former governor of Vermont, signed a civil unions bill in 2000 which gave same-sex couples similar rights to married people in the state of Vermont. This year, he announced his intention to stand for Democratic nomination for the presidential elections in 2004.

US gay and lesbian rights groups have applauded Dean’s stand, although his comments might not have won him middle American votes.

Journalist Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press wrote an editorial on the damage Dean could have done his presidential aspirations by supporting gay issues.

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