Dean Says Faith Swayed Decision on Gay Unions By Jim VandeHei Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, January 8, 2004; Page A01 MUSCATINE, Iowa, Jan. 7 -- Democratic front-runner Howard Dean said Wednesday that his decision as governor to sign the bill legalizing civil unions for gays in Vermont was influenced by his Christian views, as he waded deeper into the growing political, religious and cultural debate over homosexuality and the Bible's view of it. "The overwhelming evidence is that there is very significant, substantial genetic component to it," Dean said in an interview Wednesday. "From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people." Dean's comments come as gay marriage is emerging as a defining social issue of the 2004 elections, and one that is dividing the Episcopal Church in the United States and many other Christians and non-Christians. Driving the debate is a theological dispute over the Bible's view on homosexuality and a political one over the secular and spiritual wisdom of allowing gays to marry. Dean said he does not often turn to his faith when making policy decisions but cited the civil union bill as a time he did. "My view of Christianity . . . is that the hallmark of being a Christian is to reach out to people who have been left behind," he told reporters Tuesday. "So I think there was a religious aspect to my decision to support civil unions." Earlier Tuesday, when he and the other candidates were asked at a debate whether religion has influenced any of their policy decisions, Dean was the only one not to respond. In the interview Wednesday, Dean said, "I don't go through an inventory like that when making public policy decisions." Dean has been expanding on his religious views in a series of conversations with reporters, but his remarks Tuesday and Wednesday were the first time he has talked about how faith has influenced his policymaking. Dean said he does not consider homosexuality a sin but nonetheless opposes gay marriage. The civil unions bill he signed as Vermont governor in 2000 granted homosexual couples the same rights and protections as if they were married. Among the nine Democratic presidential contenders, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), former senator Carol Moseley Braun (Ill.) and Al Sharpton support gay marriage. Republicans are pushing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and President Bush has said he would support it if necessary. Religious groups and social conservatives in Congress are planning to push the issue aggressively before the November election, in part, to motivate Christian voters and paint Democrats as out of touch with most Americans. Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. Dean, who leads in many polls, is increasingly trying to broaden his appeal by talking about faith and centrist policies such as a balanced budget and tax reform for the middle class. One week ago he said he planned to discuss his faith more openly in the South, but Tuesday he said he would take this message everywhere. "I think we have got to stop thinking about the South as some peculiar region," he said. "I am going to talk about the same things everywhere." Some Democrats have said Dean, with roots in liberal Vermont and close identification with the nation's first civil unions law, might appear too secular to win over an increasingly religious electorate. Dean, who is a member of the Congregationalist Church, which preaches a liberal brand of Christianity, falls on the side of Episcopal leaders in the United States who recently stirred international controversy by ordaining a gay bishop, and the millions of Americans who do not consider homosexuality a sin. This theological debate predates the questions of civil unions and gay marriage and has divided biblical scholars for a long time. In broad terms, it pits Christians who look at the Bible less literally and argue that the Gospels never quote Jesus talking specifically about homosexuality against more conservative Christians who take a more literal approach and point to scripture in the New and Old Testaments that they believe forbids homosexuality. For instance, Leviticus 18:22, according to the King James version of the Bible, says, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." Polls show voters want a religious president and one who talks about faith. Some Republicans, including a few in the Bush administration, worry that the GOP could overplay its hand by appearing to divide people with hostility toward gays. But if Dean wins the Democratic presidential nomination, strategists from both parties predict it will become a major issue in the campaign. At several campaign stops this week, Dean said that if Republicans push gay issues, he will talk "issues that unite us," such as health insurance for every American.