In a clear statement of intent Democratic party National Committee Chair and former leadership nominee Howard Dean has told US gays to vote for his party if they want to improve their legal rights.

“I think the message is pretty clear,” he said. “Vote Democrat and we’ll make the changes you’re looking for.”

Mr Dean claimed a host of measures which protect gay rights and outlaw discrimination had been achieved because of the Democratic party.

These include new laws in Iowa outlawing sexual orientation discrimination in employment and housing and moves in New Hampshire to establish civil ceremonies by the start of 2008.

Oregon has enacted domestic partnerships and Colorado has passed a law banning discrimination in employment of the basis of sexuality.

“I think we’ve made enormous progress,” Dean told the Washington Blade.

“Of course, it’s never as much progress as you’d like.”

He blamed Republicans for slowing down the progress of federal measures to end discrimination.

An Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been crawling its way through Congress and is set to be debated in the House of Representatives next month.

“The Republicans have slowed us down enormously on all our priorities,” Mr Dean explained.

But he also expressed concern that new legislation could be vetoed by the President in a bid to please his Evangelical support base.

“Frankly,” Mr Dean continued, “the only way we’re going to get anything accomplished is to have a Democrat in the White House.”

Some observers are criticising Mr Dean’s comments as irrelevant, given that US gays already overwhelmingly vote Democrat anyway.

Exit polls from 2006 show 80 percent of voters who consider themselves gay or lesbian voted democrat and contribute $1 to $2 million dollars a year to the party.

Many activists deny that this represents faith in the party’s commitment to gay rights, however, and instead cite the increasingly distasteful comments originating from many Republican party politicians as the reason gays vote for their opponents.