A candidate for the Republican party nomination for President of the United States has said that he thinks a child would be better off with a dead parent rather than a gay one.

Mitt Romney, a former Governor of Massachusetts, was speaking at a college in rural Iowa.

Asked what he would say to a gay couple wanting to get married, he pointed out his support for a change to the US Constitution to bar gay and lesbian Americans from marriage.

“I believe that maintaining the strength of the marriage relationship, the family relationship, is critical to the strength of an entire society,” he said, according to Rocky Mountain News.

“And I believe that the development of children is enhanced by having a male and a female as part of their upbringing in their home.

“Even when there’s a divorce, you still have a mom and a dad.

“And even where one member of the partnership may pass away, the memory and the characteristics of that gender, of that partner influence the development of a child.

“I’m in favour of promoting, as a society, the marriage of men and women and the development of children in that kind of setting.”

Mr Romney is attempting to portray himself as more conservative than his Republican opponents on the issue of gay marriage.

The leading candidate, former Mayor of New York Rudy Guiliani, is pro-gay rights.

Massachusetts is the only state in America to have legalised gay marriage.

This was not the work of Mr Romney, a Mormon who once worked as a missionary in France.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts established the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.

American liberals are worried about the candidacy of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormons believe that homosexuality, and homosexual desire, are sinful.

The church has opposed all efforts in America to legalise same-sex marriage or civil unions.

Mr Romney has experience in state government and in business: he was the CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

However, he has no experience in Congress, or international politics.

This may not be a barrier, as four out of the last five Presidents have come to Washington straight from state politics.

Last December it was revealed that Mr Romney once courted the gay community for their support in a 1994 campaign for the US Senate.

In a letter, published by Massachusetts newspaper Bay Windows, he promises to represent his gay and lesbian constituents.

“I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican Party, and I would be a voice in the Republican Party to foster anti-discrimination efforts,” he wrote.

The revelation angered conservatives in the US.

The Republican candidate will be announced at the party’s convention at the start of September 2008.

The Presidential election will be held on 4th November 2008 and a new President will take office on 20th January 2009.