The attitude of American ‘religious right’ leaders toward gays and lesbians is akin to the anti-gay policies promoted by Adolf Hitler, according to the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie.

Yoffie made the controversial comments Saturday during the movement’s national biennial conference in Houston.

“We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations,” Yoffie said. “Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage but there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry.” The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.

Yoffie used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals throughout his speech. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but concluded it did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.

Yoffie has long been a highly-regarded and admired leader of the Reform movement, the largest branch of American Judaism. He blasted conservative religious activists, calling them “zealots” who claim “a monopoly on God.”

The Union for Reform Judaism represents amore than 900 synagogues in North America with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism (Orthodox and Conservative are the others) it is the only one that sanctions gay ordination and supports civil marriage for same-gender couples.

Yoffie said “religious right” leaders believe “unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text, you cannot be a moral person.

“What could be more bigoted than to claim you have a monopoly on God?” he added.

Yoffie said liberals and conservatives share some concerns, such as the potential damage to children from violent or highly sexual TV shows and other popular media.

But, he said, overall, conservatives define family values in too narrow terms, making a “frozen embryo in a fertility clinic” more important than a child and ignoring poverty and other social ills.