A republican email sex scandal has taken a new turn after Mark Foley who resigned from the US Congress last week amid reports that he sent inappropriate messages to teenage congressional pages revealed he is gay.

His revelation has brought House Republican leaders into the spotlight amid claims that some knew about his sexual orientation but refused to investigate so not to sound bigoted.

Some members of the gay community have blamed the saga on the fact that Mr Foley has spent so long in the closet, The Associated Press reports.

Democrat Barney Frank, Congress’s first openly gay man, told the news agency, “It’s a terrible place to be, and it’s got to be worse if you’re a Republican.”

In 1996 a gay newspaper outed Mr Foley but he refused to talk about his sexuality at the time and again in 2003.

Mr Foley, a six-term state representative and chairman of the House caucus on missing and exploited children resigned after ABC News reported he sent messages to current and former underage pages with references to sexual acts and genitalia.

According to Reuters, Mr Foley apparently sent some ‘overly-friendly’ e-mails in August 2005 to a former page who was 16 years old at the time. More recently, Foley has been accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to House pages.

Republican leaders are under fire to give an explanation for how much they knew about Foley’s behaviour and when they were first aware of the e-mails.

House Republican leaders have been under pressure since then to explain what they knew about Foley’s behaviour and when they knew it.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, has asked for a federal investigation, stating that no party leaders had seen the e-mails before they were released by ABC News, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

A spokesman for Mr Foley told CNN the congressman acknowledged he had an e-mail exchange with the former page but flatly denied that it was anything inappropriate.

“I have delivered a letter to the Speaker of the House informing him of my decision to resign from the US House of Representatives,” Mr Foley said.

“I am deeply sorry and I apologise for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent.”

Gay rights groups expressed outrage this week over the ‘gay spin’ they say the Republican leadership has put on the scandal, emphasising that the ex-congressman’s actions had nothing to do with sexual orientation.

“It is completely unacceptable, regardless of party or sexual orientation, for an adult to engage in this kind of behaviour with a minor,” said Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political organisation.

“The American people deserve leaders who confront problems and take responsibility, not leaders who excuse their corruption by trying to pin it on others.”

Political commentators claim the issue may affect Republican results in Congress elections next month.

US President George W Bush has expressed disgust at the scandal, he said: “I was dismayed and shocked to learn about Congressman Foley’s unacceptable behaviour.

“I was disgusted by the revelation, and disappointed that he would violate the trust of the citizens who placed him in office.”