GOP largely quiet on Santorum's remarks

Many appear to have no quarrel with senator's homosexuality comment

April 24, 2003|By Nick Anderson | Nick Anderson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Critics are hearing echoes of the Trent Lott furor this week in Sen. Rick Santorum's comments that linked gay consensual sex with bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery.

To which some prominent Republicans who have read Santorum's words reply, in essence: What controversy?

Lott, a Mississippi Republican, was forced to step down as Senate Republican leader in December after he praised the 1948 presidential candidacy of Strom Thurmond, whose campaign advocated racial segregation. His comments, at Thurmond's 100th birthday party, drew the wrath of President Bush and GOP senators - despite Lott's many apologies.

But Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican and a rising star in his party, has not been criticized by GOP leaders for his views on the legal and moral issues surrounding homosexuality. The White House has been largely silent.

Far from apologetic, Santorum has stood by his remarks, shrugging off calls from gay-rights advocates, some Democrats and other critics for him to quit the chairmanship of the Senate Republican Conference.

To be sure, a few Republicans are criticizing the party's third-ranking senator. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island said yesterday that Santorum's comments had hurt the party.

"It's divisive language," Chafee said, "and I don't think that's constructive."

The Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of Republican gays and lesbians, also denounced Santorum's statements.

But such opinions were not dominant within the GOP.

What distinguishes Santorum's case from Lott's is that a core group of Republicans appears to have no quarrel with what the Pennsylvanian said.

In fact, prominent conservative organizations such as the Family Research Council and the Free Congress Foundation, among others, have defended Santorum. Some want him to expand on his views.

"In the way that Trent Lott crossed a certain line on race, I don't know that he [Santorum] crossed that line" with the GOP leadership, said Michael Berkman, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University. "This is how many of them feel."

In an April 7 interview with the Associated Press that was published this week, Santorum declared: "I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts."

Discussing a Texas sodomy law, now under legal challenge before the Supreme Court, Santorum argued that the Constitution does not grant a right to privacy.

"And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to [gay] consensual sex within your home," Santorum said, "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."

Of polygamy, adultery and sodomy, he continued, "All of those things are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family." And, he added, "that's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."

In response to critics who called his remarks polarizing and discriminatory, Santorum insisted that his comments came in the context of the case before the Supreme Court, Lawrence vs. Texas. He stressed that he believed in equality for all Americans and said that his statement should not be "misconstrued" as a comment on "individual lifestyles."

Santorum, 44, a two-term senator who has expressed ambition to climb further in the party, issued no further public statement on the matter yesterday. A Roman Catholic, he is known as one of the Senate's staunchest opponents of abortion and is a frequently outspoken advocate of Christian conservative views on social issues.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer declined yesterday to weigh in on the matter.

In a statement released late Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said: "Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics."

Nick Anderson writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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