South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is under renewed fire from women's groups and gay rights supporters for remarks he made six years ago, when he said gays and unmarried pregnant women should not be teaching in public schools.
At a rally in Spartanburg last Friday, DeMint, a Republican, reflected on his controversial remarks, saying that while no one offered a public "attaboy," people were privately were patting him on the back.
"No one came to my defense. But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn't back down," DeMint, who is running for re-election next month, said at the Greater Freedom Rally, according to a report in the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg. "They don't want government purging their rights and their freedom of religion."
The National Organization for Women (NOW) quickly condemned DeMint's remarks, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called for an apology.
"Sexist bigots like Sen. Jim DeMint don't belong in the United States Congress," NOW President Terry O'Neill said in a written statement. "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."
"NOW is re-doubling its efforts to stop Sen. DeMint and his crowd from taking control of Congress," O'Neill added. "We don't need people like him who lead from a place of ignorance and hate – we need leaders who will be committed to equality, fairness and justice as they tackle the enormous challenges we face."
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, also criticized DeMint, who is seeking his second term in the U.S. Senate. "Any elected official, including Sen. Jim DeMint, who makes such discriminatory and offensive statements should apologize," Carey said.
"Politicians should be working to build America up, not tearing it down with divisiveness and ugly rhetoric. What matters is that young people get the best education they can, taught by the most qualified teachers."
Neither group would elaborate on its statements to FoxNews.com.
Despite the groups' condemnation of DeMint, it's unclear whether either will support the senator's main opponent, Democratic nominee Alvin Greene, in the general election on Nov. 2. Greene, who is under indictment for showing obscene images to a college student, stunned the state's Democratic establishment in June when he came from nowhere to win the party's Senate primary.
DeMint's office issued a statement Wednesday saying he "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," DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton said in the statement.
DeMint's initial statement on the issue came in October 2004 in response to a question during a televised debate for the Senate race that he went on to win.
He and his opponent were asked about a state Republican Party platform item saying gays should not teach in public schools.
"I don't think they should," DeMint said, adding that government should not endorse particular behaviors. "We need the folks that are teaching in schools to represent our values."
His rival, Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, called the comment "un-American."