Brazil poll favorite rows back on gay marriage

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazilian surprise package Marina Silva, whom polls suggest could oust incumbent Dilma Rousseff in October presidential elections, rowed back on liberal social policy Saturday after dropping a program reference to gay marriage.

Silva, an ecologist and evangelical Christian who once served for the ruling Workers Party as environment minister, holds conservative opinions on abortion as well as gay marriage but says she backs civil unions for same-sex couples.

Friday, her campaign team had brought out a detailed plan should she, as latest polls suggest, oust Rousseff, whom polls show her as defeating in a likely October 26 run-off.

The program initially contained, in a chapter entitled citizenship and identities, a direct pledge to "back proposals defending civil marriage" but her team Saturday sent out a communication saying "clarification" was required.

The new version reads that Silva will "defend rights relating to civil unions between same-sex couples."

Civil unions bestow less rights than marriage -- for instance, a surviving partner does not enjoy rights of estate inheritance.

The wording was amended as Silva, the daughter of rubber tappers who only learned to write in her teens and wants to become in her words Brazil's first "poor, black" president, visited Rio's Rocinha slum accompanied by former soccer star and would-be Rio senator Romario.

"The text (initially) published was not the text which had been discussed," Silva explained, adding it had been sent back to correct the "mistake." Her team blamed an "editorial error."

Silva's program indicates she will defend the rights of homosexuals and transgender people, many of whom suffer often violent persecution in Brazil.

She also stressed that, despite her strong religious background -- she received a Catholic education from nuns -- she backed a lay state.

"We are committed to the defense of the lay state, defence of personal freedom and the respect of religious freedom. The lay state is there to defend the interests of all, the interests of those who believe or do not, independent of their social standing or sexual orientation."

A further hint of controversy crept into Saturday's debate as the Silva team also edited out an initial mention of nuclear power as a means of bolstering Brazil's energy generation capacity.

Brazil has just one plant for a sector which accounts for barely three percent of the giant nation's electricity generation.

But as a noted campaigner on green issues Silva, who has shot to prominence since original party candidate Eduardo Campos died in an August 13 plane crash, is pinning her faith on increased use of renewable energy sources, notably wind power.