Santorum In Gay Rights Dispute

Philadelphia Phillies' Raul Ibanez fails to catch a two-run RBI double to center field by New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez during the eighth inning. Robinson Cano drove in Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly that cut the deficit to 8-5.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Democrats and gay-rights groups are calling for Sen. Rick Santorum to be removed from the GOP Senate leadership after the lawmaker compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., defended Santorum, saying, "Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the two-term Pennsylvania senator should step down as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 3 job in the party leadership.

The DSCC called Santorum's remarks "divisive, hurtful and reckless" and said they "are completely out of bounds for someone who is supposed to be a leader in the United States Senate."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Santorum criticized homosexuality while discussing a pending Supreme Court case over a Texas sodomy law.

"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," Santorum said in the interview, published Monday.

Santorum spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright said Monday that the lawmaker's comments were "were specific to the Supreme Court case." The senator's office had no immediate comment Tuesday to the DSCC's call for him to give up his leadership job.

The DSCC also urged Santorum's fellow Republican senator, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, to repudiate the remarks. Specter, a moderate Republican, is up for re-election in 2004 and faces a primary challenge from conservative Republican Rep. Pat Toomey.

Questioned at the White House, press secretary Ari Fleischer had no comment on Santorum's remarks, saying he had not seen the "the entire context of the interview. And ... I haven't talked to the president about it so I really don't have anything to offer."

Conservative Republicans, including former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, rallied to Santorum's defense.

"I think that while some elites may be upset by those comments, they're pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is," Bauer said.

Several Democratic presidential candidates criticized Santorum. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., assailed the White House for remaining silent "while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that ave no place in our politics."

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said Santorum "is wrong. The Texas law is unconstitutional and an insult to the better America we need to build for all our people."

And former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean called for Santorum to resign his Senate leadership position, saying, "Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral."

During Santorum's interview with the AP, he said, "I have no problem with homosexuality - I have a problem with homosexual acts, as I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships," Santorum said during an interview taped April 7 in his Senate office.

"And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual," he said. "I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. 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. And you have to separate the person from their actions."

Given a chance to clarify his comments before the story was published, Santorum said: "I can't deny that I said it, and I can't deny that's how I feel."

In the interview, which lasted more than an hour and covered a range of topics, Santorum also criticized "a whole feminist movement that's built around the fact that fathers are unnecessary." He answered "absolutely" when asked if liberalism takes power away from the family.

"The basic liberal philosophy is materialistic, is relativistic, to the point of, you've got candidates for president saying we should condone different types of marriage," Santorum said. "That is, to me, the death knell of the American family."