Utah Senator Orrin Hatch says he admires the LGBT community for their devotion to politics and did not mean to imply that gay people are faithless.

The seventy-six-year-old Republican found himself under fire from gay rights groups after he told a group of about 300 people on the campus of the Dixie State University in St. George, Utah that “Gays and lesbians don't pay tithing, their religion is politics.” He made the comment while discussing how to end the Democrat's “tax-and-spend” policies, saying Republicans need to emulate the tactics of unions, environmentalist, personal injury lawyers and gay rights activists in supporting Democratic candidates.

“Many gay people are vociferous Democrats who are willing to pony up money for politics. That's something I admire,” Hatch told the Salt Lake Tribune last week. “I don't know how I could have been much more complimentary the way I said it.”

The comment had drawn harsh criticism from one of the nation's largest gay advocates.

“This rhetoric is highly insulting and offensive to lesbian and gay people, particularly to devout followers of a wide range of faith traditions,” Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), said in a statement.

Hatch, however, insisted that he was not suggesting that gay people aren't religious.

“There are some very, very good gay people who are very religious who undoubtedly pay tithing,” he said.

One gay activist in Utah said Hatch might have been pandering to the conservative audience.

David Melson, executive director of Affirmation, a support group for LGBT members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), told the paper: “I doubt very much he would have made the same comment if he were speaking in [more liberal] Salt Lake City.”

During his speech, Hatch, a Mormon, also complained about the Tea Party's emotional “Throw the bums out” anthem, saying experience matters on Capitol Hill. Utah Republicans booted three-term Senator Bob Bennett last month and polling suggests Hatch, who was first elected to the chamber in 1977, could face a similar fate in 2012.