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Democratic gay
rights groups hold Santorum "retirement parties"

Democratic gay
rights groups hold Santorum "retirement parties"

A national political group for gays is staging dozens of mock "retirement parties" for U.S. senator Rick Santorum across the country this month as part of a campaign to mobilize activists for the 2006 elections. So far, the National Stonewall Democrats and its local chapters have signed up hosts for about 40 parties in more than a dozen states, including six in Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania and several as far away as California, organizers say. Nearly all the parties are scheduled for November 13. Although the parties are expected to generate little money--the collective goal is only $5,000--organizers say the real benefit will be energizing rank-and-file activists for next year's campaigns and the 2008 presidential election. "This race is hot," Eric Stern, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based group, said in a telephone interview. "We saw it as a rallying cry for our members nationally." The Stonewall Democrats also plan to hold their national convention in June in Pittsburgh, near Santorum's home in Penn Hills. Santorum, who as GOP conference chairman is the Senate's third-ranking Republican, has cultivated a reputation as an advocate for socially conservative causes and helped lead last year's unsuccessful push in Congress for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. In a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, he angered gay rights groups by saying states should have the right to ban gay sex and by comparing homosexuality to bigamy, incest, and adultery. An independent poll conducted by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University last month showed Santorum trailing state treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. 52% to 34%. Casey, the son of the late governor, was handpicked by national Democratic leaders as the party's best hope of unseating Santorum. But two lesser-known Philadelphia Democrats--college professor Chuck Pennacchio and pension lawyer Alan Sandals--have said they plan to challenge Casey for the nomination. The three have similar positions on gay rights. All three support laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Casey and Pennacchio favor allowing same-sex couples to join in civil unions that could provide them with many of the same benefits as marriage, while Sandals supports same-sex marriage. Any endorsement by the Stonewall Democrats in the primary hinges on the ability of chapters in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg to agree. If not, the group may not endorse anyone, said Renee Gilinger, state director of the Philadelphia chapter, Liberty PA. Asked about Santorum's stand on issues raised by gay rights advocates, campaign spokeswoman Virginia Davis said he believes marriage should be "between one man and one woman" and that "special rights should not be granted based on sexual orientation." She also said he "respects the rights of groups who wish to express their First Amendment rights." The Log Cabin Republicans--a gay political group--supports "fair-minded Republicans" but will not endorse Santorum's reelection bid, a spokesman said. "Senator Santorum has a track record that puts him so far outside the mainstream that it would be laughable," said Chris Barron, political director of the Washington, D.C.-based group. (AP)

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