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Barry Goldwater, who for years was the conservative voice of the GOP, says it is "just plain dumb" for Republicans to oppose gays and lesbians in the armed forces.

"The Republican Party should stand for freedom and only freedom," the former Arizona senator said in an interview with The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian magazine.In the interview, released Saturday, Goldwater said he has also lost all respect for the religious right.

"There is no place in this country for practicing religion in politics. That goes for Falwell, Robertson and all the rest of those political preachers," he said, referring to the Rev. Jerry Falwell and television evangelist Pat Robert-son.

He said the televangelists are "raising big money on God," and added: "I don't believe in that. It's not a very religious thing to do."

Goldwater's remarks on homosexuals echoed the opinions he expressed in a Washington Post column in June.

Goldwater said then that the military should lift its ban on gays because, "You don't need to be `straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."

In the current interview, Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate, turned his fire on his own party.

"To see the party that fought communism and big government now fighting the gays, well, that's just plain dumb," Goldwater said.

"There has been homosexuality ever since men and women were invented. I guess there were gay apes. So its not an issue."

He said he would tell the GOP: "Don't raise hell about the gays, the blacks and the Mexicans. Free people have a right to do as they damn please."

President Clinton, who initially advocated lifting the ban against homosexuals in the armed services, has endorsed a so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy in which gays and lesbians can serve as long as they keep their sexual orientation secret and don't engage in homosexual activity.