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Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean misstated the party’s platform on gay marriage in an interview with CBN News, prompting backlash from a gay-rights group.

Trying to dispel the notion that Democrats are “godless and don’t have any values,” Dean went on the conservative TV talk show to discuss the party’s outreach to people of faith.

Asked about two values important to religious conservatives–abortion and gay marriage–the former Vermont governor replied in part: “The Democratic Party platform from 2004 says that marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s what it says. I think where we may take exception with some religious leaders is that we believe in inclusion, that everybody deserves to live with dignity and respect, and that equal rights under the law are important.”

The actual platform plank, as posted on a Democratic Web site, says: “We support full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families. In our country, marriage has been defined at the state level for 200 years, and we believe it should continue to be defined there. We repudiate President Bush’s divisive effort to politicize the Constitution by pursuing a ‘Federal Marriage Amendment.’ Our goal is to bring Americans together, not drive them apart.”

The discrepancy prompted the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which considered the gay marriage stance a major victory, to return a recent $5,000 donation it received from the Democratic National Committee.

“Gov. Dean is wrong about what the Democratic platform says about marriage equality,” Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said in a statement. “Disturbingly, this is not the first time he has misrepresented this important and affirming plank, and he has been asked before to correct the record and to cease making these misleading statements.”

Foreman accused Dean of “pandering” to the religious right and said his record on gay-rights issues has been “sorely and sadly lacking” since he became DNC chair. The group decided to return the $5,000 “with great sadness,” recognizing that the Democratic Party “has long been a champion of our rights.” The group urged Dean to “accurately represent the party’s commitment to equality” for gay people and “do everything in his power as chair to realize this vision.”

Dean set the record straight in an Associated Press story on Friday. “I misstated the Democratic Party’s platform, which does not say marriage should be limited to a man and a woman,” he said.

Despite Dean’s clarification, the gay-rights group sent back the check, which was for sponsoring of a leadership awards dinner last week in Washington, anyway, citing “a disturbing lack of clarity from Gov. Dean about where we fit into the party and the country.”

In the CBN interview Dean said, “One of the misconceptions about the Democratic Party is that we’re godless and that we don’t have any values.”

“The truth is, we have an enormous amount in common with the Christian community, and particularly with the evangelical Christian community,” he continued. “And one of the biggest things that Democrats worry about is the materialism of our culture, what’s on television that our kids are seeing, and the lack of spirituality. And that’s something we have in common.”

“I’m a Democrat because of my values,” he said. “My values include inclusiveness–they include not leaving more debt to our kids than we have ourselves. My values including wanting our values to drive our public policies. My values include not having kids going to bed hungry at night. Now those are values that I bet I share with the vast majority of evangelicals.”

Responding to a question about abortion, Dean said: “I was on the board of Planned Parenthood for five years. I don’t know anybody who is pro-abortion…. I think what we have in common with the evangelical community is that we ought to have a lot fewer abortions than we do. The abortions have actually gone up in the last five years. We should have far fewer abortions. We should reach out to women who have unwanted pregnancy. We ought to make sure that there’s not just abstinence, but family planning is used to get rid of abortion, and that is something that we share. Now the difference is that we don’t think making criminals out of doctors and women is a good idea.”

Dean’s claim that abortions have increased since President Bush’s election to a first term repeats a contention made by Senators Hillary Clinton and John Kerry in 2005. That claim originated with an article by Baptist ethicist Glen Stassen that appeared in media including EthicsDaily.com in October 2004, saying one reason women abort is they cannot afford to have a baby and blaming Bush’s economic policies for the increase. Its accuracy was been challenged as “cherry picking” based on only partial statistics.

Using more complete statistics when they became available, Stassen later re-evaluated the abortion rate as not an increase but rather a “stall” from a decline that occurred during the Clinton administration, but said nothing in the data contradicts his thesis that economics are a factor in whether women choose abortion.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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