updated 1/9/2004 5:25:28 PM ET 2004-01-09T22:25:28

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on Friday criticized President Bush for restricting stem-cell research based on religious beliefs even though his own faith affected his decision to extend legal rights to gay couples.

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In 2001, Bush limited research that destroyed human embryos. Many Christian organizations and abortion-rights opponents were against the research.

“I think we ought to make scientific decisions, not theological and theoretical decisions,” Dean told voters at a town hall meeting. “I think that what the president did on stem-cell research was based on his religious beliefs and I think that is wrong.”

Earlier this week Dean said his Christian faith contributed to his decision to sign the civil unions bill four years ago when he was governor of Vermont. The bill gave gay couples the same legal rights as married couples without allowing them to wed.

“The hallmark of Christianity is to reach out to people who have been left behind,” Dean told reporters Tuesday night. “So there was a religious aspect to my support of civil unions.”

Dean told the town hall meeting Friday that if elected president he would allow stem-cell research. He said he has a nephew with diabetes who could benefit from it.

“We’ll give hope back to people with diabetes and other diseases who could be cured by stem-cell research,” Dean said.

Bush, in announcing his decision in August 2001, said the use of human embryos had led different people of different faiths to different conclusions. He said he himself had given the question thought and prayer.

“I also believe human life is a sacred gift from our creator,” Bush said in a national address. “I worry about a culture that devalues life, and believe as your president I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life in America and throughout the world."

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