Gay and women's rights groups are criticizing Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina in the wake of comments he reportedly made concerning whether sexually active single women and gay people should be teaching.
DeMint said at a church rally Friday that openly gay people and unmarried women who are sleeping with a boyfriend shouldn't be in the classroom, according to the Spartanburg Herald Journal.
He made the comments in response to a question about similar statements he made in 2004 about gays and unwed single mothers, for which he later apologized. "I answered as a dad with my heart and I did not answer as a Senate candidate. I apologize for making the remark because it distracted from the debate," he said at the time.
On Friday, according to the Herald Journal, DeMint addressed that controversy, saying, "[When I said those things] no one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn't back down. They don't want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion."
Asked whether DeMint stands by the comments, DeMint communications director Wesley M. Denton said that "Senator DeMint believes that hiring decisions at local schools are a local school board issue, not a federal issue."
"He was making a point about how the media attacks people for holding a moral opinion," he added.
In an interview, Jimmy LaSalvia of the gay Republican group GOProud said he believed DeMint was reaffirming his 2004 comments on Friday. "I don't know anybody in 2010 who thinks that," he added.
"Jim DeMint's comments can only be described as outrageous and bizarre," GOProud's Christopher R. Barron added in a statement. "The idea that someone who says they believe in limited government would support the government weeding out gay teachers and unmarried sexually active female teachers simply defies logic."
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, said in response to the comments that "What matters in the workplace is your ability to do your job, yet you can be fired for your sexual orientation in 29 states and for your gender identity in 38. I can't imagine what people think is 'moral' about job discrimination."
The National Organization for Women, meanwhile, hammered DeMint for the comments.
"Sexist bigots like Sen. Jim DeMint don't belong in the United States Congress," said NOW President Terry O'Neill. "He thinks gay women and men and sexually active single women should be banned from teaching, but he said nothing about sexually active, single straight men."
An aide to DeMint stressed that the senator had made the initial comments as a father, not a legislator. The aide noted that DeMint has not taken any legislative action on the issue, and said DeMint was expressing a personal opinion, not a legislative agenda.
DeMint, who has emerged as something of a kingmaker for Tea Party-aligned candidates, is heavily favored in his reelection bid against surprise Democratic nominee Alvin Greene.
Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.