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Santorum, Romney challenged on gay rights in debate

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, answers a question and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum listens during a Republican presidential candidate debate at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, N.H., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- In a Sunday morning debate, Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, the top finishers in the Iowa caucuses last week, were questioned about gay rights - for very different reasons.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has been plagued in the GOP primary by his record as a moderate. In the debate, hosted by NBC, Facebook and the New Hampshire Union Leader, Romney was asked about a quote he gave years ago to a gay publication in Massachusetts: "I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican party," he said at the time.

When asked how he has supported the gay community, Romney responded that as governor, he hired and appointed people to various positions regardless of sexuality. However, Romney said he has consistently opposed same-sex marriage.

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"But if people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays... or say they don't have full rights in this country, they won't find that from me," he said.

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Asked when was the last time he spoke out for gay rights, Romney said, "Right now."

Santorum, meanwhile, is a staunch social conservative known for making controversial statements regarding gays. Asked whether he would support gay rights, the former Pennsylvania said all Americans, gay or straight, deserve "equality of opportunity."

Santorum has repeatedly been confrontedon the campaign trail for his positions on gay rights issues, and in Sunday's debate, he said he's listened respectfully to people's varying opinions.

Asked how he would respond if his own son came out as gay, Santorum responded, "I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it."

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