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Carl Paladino Softens Remarks on Homosexuality, but Says Children Can Be 'Brainwashed'

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New York's Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, on Monday attempted to clarify remarks he'd made the previous day about homosexuality, telling Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" show that discrimination against gays "is horrible. It's terrible."

Paladino, a Tea Party favorite, on Sunday had sharply attacked homosexuality in a speech to Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn even as the tragedy of gay bullying has riveted the nation and a day after three gay men were tortured in the Bronx because of their sexual orientation.

Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at Congregation Shaarei Chaim in the trendy and traditional Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, where hipsters live cheek by jowl with Hasidic Jews, Paladino was talking about the importance of not "pandering to the pornographers and perverts" when he continued on to the issue of gay rights, which he opposes.

"I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don't want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option -- it isn't," said Paladino, who has a reputation for being frank to the point of volatility.

Paladino also had controversial remarks that he did not deliver, writing at one point in his prepared speech: "There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual" and being homosexual "is not how God created us."

In the "Today" show interview, Paladino said he is not anti-gay and that he would "absolutely" recruit gays to work in his administration. "You name it. Wherever their expertise may be, we'll put them in our government."

Asked about the "brainwashed" remark, he said that comment had "to do with schooling children. My feelings on homosexuality are unequivocal. I have absolutely no problem with it whatsoever. My only reservation is marriage."

He said that "children should not be exposed to that at a young age. They don't understand this. It's a very difficult thing. And exposing them to homosexuality, especially at a Gay Pride parade, and I don't know if you've ever been to one, but they wear these little Speedos and they grind against each other. It's just a terrible thing."

When interviewer Matt Lauer noted that some of the content in Paladino's speech was written by the people he was addressing -- a group of Orthodox Jews -- Paladino said, "That section of my presentation was written, okay, and it was handed to a staffer and it was put into the [text]. I crossed it out. "

"That group gets to write the comments they want you to make?" Lauer asked?

"No," Paladino responded. "It was with a discussion, but then they went too far in the discussion and I crossed all that stuff out. The only part that I said was what you just quoted me" on about children being brainwashed.

Asked to clarify the reference to homosexuality equating with "dysfunction," he replied, "I did not say that. It's unacceptable." Click play below to watch Paladino on the "Today" show:

In his remarks Sunday, the Republican also had harsh words for his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, for marching in this year's gay pride parade. "[T]hat's not the example we should be showing our children," he said to applause.

He added: "And don't misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way. That would be a dastardly lie. My approach is live and let live."

In his "Today" interview, Paladino took another swing at his opponent: "I was trying to define myself very clearly, as oppposed to Mr. Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo took his daughters to a Gay Pride parade. Is that normal? Would you do it? Would you take your children to a Gay Pride parade? . . . I don't think it is proper for them to go there and watch a couple of grown men grinding against each other. I don't think that's proper. It's disgusting."

Paladino's campaign manager, Michael R. Caputo, told The New York Times on Sunday that the candidate employs a gay man on his campaign staff and said his views reflect those of the Catholic Church.

"Carl Paladino is simply expressing the views that he holds in his heart as a Catholic," Caputo told The Times. "Carl Paladino is not homophobic, and neither is the Catholic Church."

Caputo continued that line in remarks to CNN.

"Carl Paladino's position on this is exactly equivalent to the Catholic Church," Caputo said. "And if Andrew Cuomo has a problem with the Catholic Church's position on abortion and homosexuality, he needs to take it up with his parish priest."

Paladino's comments drew a harsh rebuke from the gay community.

"His words foster a climate of hatred and intolerance instead of helping heal the city of its wounds," Michael Silver, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, told the Daily News. Silver called on Paladino to apologize immediately.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto blasted Paladino's comments.

"Mr. Paladino's statement displays a stunning homophobia and a glaring disregard for basic equality," Vlasto said in a statement. "These comments along with other views he has espoused make it clear that he is way out of the mainstream and is unfit to represent New York."

Caputo disagreed. "The majority of New Yorkers agree with him," he said of Paladino's views on homosexuals and gay rights.

Polls have shown 58 percent of New Yorkers favor gay marriage, which Paladino says he opposes. Polls have also shown Cuomo expanding his lead on Paladino after the gap had closed last month to six points.

Paladino's own personal life has been an issue in the campaign. He has raised charges about Cuomo's sex life that he now admits are unsubstantiated, while Paladino is married but has a 10-year-old daughter from an affair with a former employee of his. He has also admitted to sending out obscene and racist e-mails.

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