Gay constituent confronts Santorum

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com April 25 2003 12:00 AM ET

Republican U.S. senator Rick Santorum maintained on Wednesday that his comments comparing homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest, and adultery were simply restating arguments made by the Supreme Court when upholding Georgia's antigay sodomy law in 1986 and in no way reflect his feelings about gay people, The Washington Post reports. The Pennsylvania senator was responding to a 23-year-old constituent who confronted him at a town hall meeting in Williamsport, Pa. The man identified himself as a proud gay Pennsylvanian and asked, "How can you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest?"

Santorum said he was only restating arguments made by Supreme Court justice Byron White in 1986. "Justice White said virtually the same thing that I said, that if...you tell the states that they cannot regulate in this area...then you leave open the door for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated."

Meanwhile, Santorum's fellow Republicans are not apologizing for his comments either; nor are they asking him to step down as the GOP conference chair, the party's third-highest position, as many Democratic officials and gay rights activists are demanding. "I have known Rick Santorum for the better part of two decades," said Pennsylvania's senior senator, Arlen Specter, a Republican, "and I can say with certainty he is not a bigot." Senate majority leader Bill Frist added on Wednesday that Santorum "is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate."

And at the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush would not comment on Santorum's remarks because "the president typically never does comment on anything involving a Supreme Court case." When a reporter pointed out that Bush recently weighed in on a Michigan affirmative action case before the court, Fleischer said that was why he had used the word "typically."

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean on Tuesday called Bush's silence on the subject unacceptable. "The president of the United States must represent all Americans, regardless of race, gender, class, or sexual orientation," he said in a statement. "In a nation dedicated to equality under the law, everyone must be equal under the law. By refusing to stand up for gay Americans under attack by members of his own party's leadership, this president sends a message that intolerance and bigotry is acceptable. That is not acceptable."