updated 1/30/2006 11:53:39 PM ET 2006-01-31T04:53:39

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, a potential presidential candidate, said Monday he meant no offense to homosexuals when he used the word “fruits” in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

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In a lengthy profile titled “God’s Senator,” the magazine quotes the Kansas Republican as criticizing countries like Sweden that allow civil unions between same-sex couples.

“You’ll know them by their fruits,” Brownback said, quoting a biblical passage from Matthew 7:16.

Rolling Stone writer Jeff Sharlet said in the story, appearing in the magazine’s current issue, that Brownback appeared to be calling gay Swedes “fruits,” a derogatory term for homosexuals.

After gay and lesbian advocacy groups denounced the comments last week, Brownback issued a statement Monday saying his quote “was in no way referring to sexual orientation.”

“While this biblical passage was pertinent to our overall conversation about faith and deeds, it apparently led the writer to believe I was making a joke,” said Brownback, a frequent critic of gay marriage who is pushing a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“I was not and would never do so with such a personal and sensitive issue,” Brownback said.

His explanation was greeted with skepticism by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization.

“It’s nice to know that Senator Brownback doesn’t resort to name-calling from the 1970s, but unfortunately his anti-gay agenda continues to speak for itself,” said spokesman Brad Luna.

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