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Santorum defends comments on homosexuality

White House maintains silence on issue

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, defends his position at a town hall meeting Wednesday.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, defends his position at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

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Sen. Rick Santorum, (R) Pennsylvania, draws criticism over a U.S. Supreme Court case on laws banning gay acts. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (April 22)
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WILLIAMSPORT, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Sen. Rick Santorum on Wednesday complained that his remarks about homosexuality -- under fire by gay rights groups and some Democrats -- were "taken out of context," but at the same time he defended them as an accurate reflection of the law on the matter.

Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, was questioned about his comments at a town hall meeting by a 23-year-old man who identified himself as "a proud, gay Pennsylvanian" and said he was offended by the remarks -- part of an interview with The Associated Press -- in which Santorum appeared to compare homosexuality to incest, bigamy and adultery.

"You attacked me for who I am .... How could you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest," the man asked Santorum.

Santorum, however, stood by his comments, even as he said they had been taken out of context. He said that if states were not allowed to regulate homosexual activity in private homes, "you leave open the door for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated."

Santorum, a lawyer, said that was not an expression of intolerance. "It is simply a reflection of the law," he said, saying Justice Byron White articulated that view in a 1986 Supreme Court ruling that dealt with homosexuality.

In the AP interview, Santorum criticized homosexuality as he discussed a pending Supreme Court case over a sodomy law in Texas.

"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 AP interview.

Meanwhile, in Washington the White House maintained a hands-off posture about the comments for a second day in a row.

"I haven't personally talked to the president about it, so I don't have anything direct for the president to share," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in response to a question about Santorum's comments.

Fleischer said the president typically doesn't comment on matters pending before the Supreme Court or people's interpretation of cases, and he cast Santorum's remarks in that context.

Santorum, however, also talked about homosexuality in general during the AP interview, and he made it clear that he did not approve of "acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships."

In the April 7 interview, Santorum describes homosexual acts as a threat to society and the family. "I have no problem with homosexuality," Santorum said, according to the AP. "I have a problem with homosexual acts." (Interview excerpts)

The White House's reluctance to offer its opinions about Santorum's remarks stands in sharp contrast to its response to comments made by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, in December that many believed were racially insensitive and remarks in March from Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, about Jews and the war in Iraq. In both cases, the White House criticized those comments.

And in both cases, the two men gave up their respective leadership positions under pressure. Lott resigned as Senate majority leader and Moran resigned as a Democratic regional whip.

Gay groups have blasted Santorum's comments, including the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay Republicans.

Some Democrats have called on Santorum to step down from his Senate leadership position. Santorum serves as chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, the number three position in the GOP leadership.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, one of nine Democrats seeking his party's 2004 presidential nomination, Wednesday, called on Santorum to step aside from the leadership post.

"Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral," Dean said in a statement. "Rick Santorum's failure to recognize that attacking people because of who they are is morally wrong makes him unfit for a leadership position in the United States Senate. Today, I call on Rick Santorum to resign from his post as Republican Conference chairman."

Santorum has stood by his comments, saying they should be viewed in the context of the Supreme Court case. In a Tuesday statement, he also stated his belief that "all are equal under the Constitution" and that his remarks in the interview were not meant to be a statement on "individual lifestyles."

Several conservative groups have come to Santorum's defense.

Concerned Women for America, a conservative interest group in Washington, released a statement criticizing the "gay thought police" and saying Santorum was "exactly right."

Genevieve Wood, vice president for communications at the Family Research Council, another conservative group, agreed.

"I think the Republican party would do well to follow Senator Santorum if they want to see pro-family voters show up on Election Day," she said.

-- Written by CNN.Com Producer Sean Loughlin in Washington.


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