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Wading deeper into the growing religious and cultural debate over homosexuality in the 2004 presidential campaign, presidential hopeful Howard Dean said Wednesday that Christianity influenced his decision to sign the groundbreaking civil unions bill in Vermont. The Democratic front-runner also defended homosexuality as a natural state and something that God would approve of. "The overwhelming evidence is that there is a very significant, substantial genetic component to it," Dean said in an interview with the The Washington Post. "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 as well as many other Christians and non-Christians, the Post reports. 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 gay men and lesbians to marry. Dean said he does not often turn to his faith when making policy decisions, but he 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." Dean's remarks on Tuesday and Wednesday were the first time he has talked about how faith has influenced his policy-making. He 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 gay and lesbian couples the same state-level rights and protections as married couples. Among the nine Democratic presidential contenders, Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton support full marriage rights for same-sex couples.