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U.S. News
Santorum: No apology

Remarks on sodomy case continue to draw fire from gays, Democrats

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

By James O'Toole, Post-Gazette Politics Editor

Dismissing calls for him to relinquish his leadership post, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum yesterday defended his published remarks on the legal status of homosexual acts, calling it "a legitimate public policy discussion."


Excerpts from the
Santorum interview


In an interview with Fox News last night, and in an earlier statement released by his office, the Pennsylvania Republican insisted, in the face of sharp criticism from leading Democrats and gay and lesbian groups, that his comments in an Associated Press interview had been misconstrued.

"I do not need to give an apology based on what I said or what I'm saying now," he said.

He said his remarks were a criticism of the reasoning behind a legal challenge to a Texas anti-sodomy law rather than an effort to equate homosexuality with acts such as incest and adultery.

Santorum, who holds the number three position in the Senate Republican caucus, sought to allay a controversy that began with an Associated Press story that included the quote:

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery, you have the right to anything."

In his statement, Santorum said, "My discussion with the Associated Press was about the Supreme Court privacy case [Texas vs. Lawrence], the constitutional right to privacy in general, and in context of the impact on the family. I am a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution. My comments should not be construed in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles."

Many critics construed it just that way.

"Sen. Santorum's comments were unfortunate, and I disagree with him wholeheartedly," said Sen. Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, in a statement released by his office.

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian activist group, called the statement "deeply hurtful," and, invoking the ousting of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott over remarks deemed racially insensitive, demanded similar GOP action on Santorum.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the political arm of the Democratic caucus, echoed the calls for Santorum's removal from leadership.

Sen. Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who succeeded Lott as GOP leader, rejected that criticism.

"Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics," Frist said in a statement issued last night.

In response to a question in an appearance in Pittsburgh yesterday, Santorum's colleague, Sen. Arlen Specter, said, "I want to talk to Sen. Santorum about it. I know Sen. Santorum is not a bigot."

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who is gay, said he had no doubt that Santorum's remarks were a reflection of outright bigotry.

"The surprise is that he's being honest about it, not that he believes this," said Frank. "This kind of gay-bashing is perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party."

Paul Weyrich, chairman of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, denounced the attacks.

"The senator is defending the sanctity of marriage. He is defending family values as defined by the Bible in which the most intimate relationships are to be between men and women and only after they have entered into the contract of marriage. There was no hate or call to violence against homosexuals expressed by Sen. Santorum," Weyrich said.

Ken O'Connor, president of the Family Research Council, called the criticism of Santorum an attempt "to intimidate defenders of marriage and silence critics of the homosexual political agenda."

At the regular White House briefing yesterday, Ari Fleischer, President Bush's press secretary, refused to be drawn into a conversation on the subject.

Sen. John Kerry, a Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts, criticized Santorum's remarks and the White House reticence on them.

John Brabender, the media strategist who helped soften Santorum's image with innovative commercials during his 2000 re-election victory, dismissed both the substance and the likely effect of such remarks.

"Clearly you have some Democrats piling on here and trying to make it something that it is not," he said.

Brabender rejected the Trent Lott analogy to Santorum's situation, maintaining that the controversy would be short-lived.

"What we have found is that, when properly explained, this makes sense to people," he said. "I don't see anything here."

A Democratic consultant, Neil Oxman of The Campaign Group, the Philadelphia firm that handled Gov. Ed Rendell's advertising last year, said it was too early to tell if the controversy would linger.

"How big it will be depends on how loud people shout," said Oxman. "If mainstream Democrats start shouting, it could take on a life of its own."

Oxman said the eventual political volume is likely to be a product of some mixture of genuine grass-roots concern and partisan orchestration.

As Santorum and his allies began to question the fairness and interpretation of the original Associated Press story, the news agency released fuller excerpts from the interview, which was taped on April 7.

In it, Santorum, who is a lawyer, questioned the line of legal reasoning first enunciated in a Supreme Court opinion that struck down state laws regulating contraception.

Santorum also suggested that the tendency to accept homosexual acts, or other sexuality outside of marriage, posed a threat to the institution of the family, and, by extension, to society in general.

The court's opinion in the contraception case, Griswold vs. Connecticut, found a right to privacy unstated but implicit in the Constitution.

"It all comes from, I would argue, the right to privacy that doesn't exist, in my opinion, in the United States Constitution," Santorum said.

At another point in the interview, Santorum observed, "In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case might be."

Echoing a variety of conservative thinkers and legal scholars, Santorum said that the Supreme Court should not interfere with state regulation of such behavior, the issue in the Texas sodomy law case that prompted his initial remarks.

"If New York doesn't want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. ... I wouldn't agree with it, but that's their right. But I don't agree with the Supreme Court coming in."

Santorum, a Roman Catholic, made a distinction between homosexual people and homosexual acts.

"I have nothing, absolutely nothing, against anyone who's homosexual," he said. "If that's their orientation, then I accept that, and I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So, it's not the person, it's the person's actions."

James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.

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