The husband of Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann has come forward to defend his family-owned Christian counseling business against growing questions and criticism that it benefited from federal payments and tries to turn homosexuals straight.

Marcus Bachmann, who runs Bachmann & Associates Inc. out of clinics in Lake Elmo and Burnsville, said in an interview with the Star Tribune that his treatment business is not focused on converting gays to heterosexuality. He also denied that he has ever called gay people barbarians.

Bachmann's comments followed several national media reports this week that featured an undercover video made by a gay advocacy group in which a counselor at Bachmann & Associates is shown practicing "reparative" therapy, a process aimed at helping a gay person become heterosexual. In the therapy sessions, gay rights activist John Becker posed as a conflicted homosexual who wanted a conversion.

Over five prayer-accented sessions that began in late June, according to the video, the counselor sought to build Becker's attraction to women. The charge was about $74 a session.

"God designed our eyes to be attracted to the woman's body, to be attracted to everything, to be attracted to her breasts," the counselor says in the undercover tape. The counselor also said that same-sex attraction "is there, and it's real, but at the core value, in terms of how God created us, we're all heterosexual."

Reparative therapy is opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and other professional groups.

"There can no longer be any doubt that Marcus Bachmann's state and federally funded clinic endorses and practices reparative therapy aimed at changing a gay person's sexual orientation, despite the fact that such 'therapy' is widely discredited by the scientific and medical communities," Becker wrote on the website of the Vermont-based gay advocacy group Truth Wins Out.

Marcus Bachmann said counselors at his clinics follow the wishes of patients and don't force any treatment.

"This individual came to us under a false pretense," Bachmann said. "The truth of the matter is he specifically asked for help."

A doctored recording?

Meanwhile, an audiotape circulating on the Internet depicts Bachmann as calling gays barbarians in a 2010 interview he gave to the "Point of View" Christian radio talk show.

"We have to understand: Barbarians need to be educated," Bachmann's voice is heard saying on the tape. "They need to be disciplined. Just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn't mean that we are supposed to go down that road."

Bachmann said that someone must have doctored the recording of the interview, in which he addressed child discipline as well as homosexuality and sex education.

The recording also became a focus of media attention this week, including ABC's "Nightline."

"I was talking in reference to children. Nothing, nothing to do with homosexuality. That's not my mindset. That's not my belief system. That's not the way I would talk," Bachmann said.

Entertainer Cher helped spread word of the "barbarians" quote to her 250,000-plus Twitter followers, ripping him for talking about gays in a "most UNCHRISTIAN way."

Then on Wednesday night, Bachmann was lampooned by comedian Jerry Seinfeld and host Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."

"I think the strongest myth. ... is the myth that I have ever called a homosexual a barbarian," Bachmann said.

"Point of View" host Penna Dexter said Bachmann clearly used the word "barbarians" to refer to children. She said the original two-hour tape is no longer in the show's archives.

"It was an endearing term, in a way, that made sense to me and to our audience," Dexter said in an email. "We believe that children are born with a nature that inclines them to challenge and break rules, and that it is thus the parents' responsibility to guide their children along good and productive paths."

Bachmann didn't deny that he or other counselors at Bachmann & Associates have attempted to convert gay patients, but he said it is not a special interest of the business and would only be attempted at the client's request.

"Will I address it? Certainly we'll talk about it," Bachmann said. "Is it a remedy form that I typically would use? ... It is at the client's discretion."

He said the business mainly treats people who accept religious faith as part of their healing process -- typically for depression or anxiety.

"We don't have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone," Bachmann said.

The family business

In Michele Bachmann's campaign appearances, the Sixth District congresswoman has touted the family's counseling business in references to job creation and entrepreneurship.

Critics say her harsh words about government spending are hypocritical given the state and federal payments that go to Bachmann & Associates.

The Associated Press has reported that the clinics have accepted at least $30,000 in state payments and $137,000 in federal payments. Much of the money was for services to people in Medicaid-backed programs.

Bachmann said federal and state subsidies flow to his business because it doesn't discriminate against patients in subsidized health-care programs.

"It's low income. It's people who are on limited income," Bachmann said. "It is a lower-paying insurance. It's not a money maker. ... So, gee, we get criticized because we take it. And somehow they tie it all in, into my wife because she's the big proponent of less taxes and less programs and so forth.

"So, over and over the bell rings about how we take this federal money," he continued. "Oooh, how evil that is. And I say to you: 'No. It would be evil not to.'"

In addition, the Associated Press reported that Bachmann & Associates also had received a $24,000 training grant from state and federal sources. The program trained counselors who treat people for both mental illness and substance abuse.

"There are many grants that are just not that wise. This one actually made a lot of sense," Bachmann said. He said his business lost money by accepting the grant because the training kept employees from seeing clients.

"It had to go and rightfully so, totally to the employees. It didn't go into the pot where Bachmann & Associates could collect, receive, so that we could go on a little vacation or go to wherever," he said.

Bachmann is not a licensed psychologist in Minnesota, but state law has allowed unlicensed therapists to see patients. According to the Bachmann & Associates website, he has been a clinical therapist in the Twin Cities for more than 20 years.

Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213