Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that a gay Iowan voter support US President Barack Obama in next year’s elections if he values marriage equality above other issues has been “mischaracterised” according to gay Republican groups.

The exchange took place in Oskaloosa, Iowa on Gingrich’s campaign to win his party’s backing for the 2012 presidential race between the politician and Scott Arnold, an associate professor at William Penn University.

Arnold said to Gingrich: “My question is how to plan to engage such a large community of people who, on this one specific issue, do not support you – may agree with you on the other parts of what you stand for – but how do you plan to engage and get the vote of gay Americans if you don’t support them?”

Gingrich replied: “I think that those for whom the only issue that matters is the definition of marriage, I won’t get their support. And I accept that that’s a reality.

“On the other hand, for those for whom it’s not the central issue in their life, that they care about job creation, they care about national security, that they care about a better future for the country at large, then I think I’ll get their support.”

Gingrich confirmed that if marriage equality was the “biggest issue” for voters, he would not receive their support. Arnold replied that for “many people”, it would be “the most important topic”.

Gingrich replied: “Well if that’s most important to you, then you should be for Obama. I think that’s a personal decision.”

Christopher R. Barron, Chief Strategist for gay Republican group GOProud said: “The liberal press is at it again, attempting to mischaracterize the words of a Republican Presidential candidate. Speaker Gingrich said absolutely nothing wrong in his exchange with the gay Iowa voter.

“Indeed, Gingrich made it clear that gay people who care about job creation, national security and a better future for our country should support his campaign. Speaker Gingrich handled himself with class and dignity in this discussion with the gay voter and the press reports that have reported otherwise have done a real disservice to the truth.”

R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director said: “It is being reported that Speaker Gingrich is telling gay voters to vote for President Obama, as though the Speaker rejects the support of LGBT conservatives. That is simply not true.

“In this political climate, the door is wide open for a strong Republican candidate to win the support of conservatives, independents and disillusioned Democrats – and there are those who are working hard to paint any and all Republicans as bigoted in a fear-mongering effort to shore up the president’s base. That is unfair and highly unfortunate for our community.”

Cooper said it was “irresponsible and sensationalist to twist this exchange into a blanket rejection of gay votes”, and added: “As Gingrich himself said, gay voters who care about job creation, national security and a better future for America should consider supporting his campaign. For those who are single issue voters on marriage, the truth is that President Obama isn’t up to their standards, either.”

Stephen Handwerk, Co-Chair of the National Stonewall Democrats countered: “Finally, Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud can agree on something. Sadly, that something is a desperate attempt to explain away Newt Gingrich’s distaste for gay people.

“Both groups are trying their best to blame those dastardly liberals for Newt Gingrich’s bigotry, but it’s Newt himself that is to blame.

“Giving cover to Gingrich for his regressive and dangerous positions on LGBT equality only serves to further entrench outdated ideas in an already out of touch Republican Party – but it sure makes our job easier when Republican presidential candidates literally tell us to vote for President Obama.”

Gingrich is a strong contender to win his party’s backing to run as the Republican party’s presidential candidate in 2012.