Richardson said at Thursday's forum he thinks homosexuality is a choice but later backtracked.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - It was an answer the largely gay audience at Thursday night's Human Rights Campaign presidential forum was not expecting.
Asked whether he thought homosexuality was a "choice" or "biological," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson flatly said, "It's a choice."
Seemingly taken aback by the presidential hopeful's answer, panelist Melissa Etheridge responded, "I don't know if you understand the question."
But Richardson did not exactly repudiate his answer, saying, "I'm not a scientist. I don't see this as an issue of science or definition. I see gays and lesbians as people, as a matter of human decency. I see it as a matter of love and companionship and people loving each other. I don't like to categorize people. I don't like to answer definitions like that that perhaps are grounded in science or something else that I don't understand."
Shortly after the forum ended, Richardson's campaign released a statement from the governor "clarifying" his remarks: "Let me be clear - I do not believe that sexual orientation or gender identity happen by choice."
"But I'm not a scientist, and the point I was trying to make is that no matter how it happens, we are all equal and should be treated that way under the law," he added.
Many opponents of gay rights make the argument that homosexuality is a choice and, as such, homosexuals should not be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals.
A similar question at a 2004 presidential debate also created trouble for then-Democratic nominee John Kerry. The Massachusetts senator took heat for invoking Dick Cheney's daughter in his answer.
"We're all God's children, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was. She's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice," said Kerry.
- CNN Ticker Producer Alexander Mooney