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Schneider on Santorum: Bigotry or morality?

CNN's Bill Schneider
CNN's Bill Schneider

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top Democrats and gay rights advocates blasted comments by Sen. Rick Santorum in which he appeared to compare homosexuality to incest, bigamy and adultery, and they called on the Pennsylvania Republican to repudiate the remarks.

One prominent Democratic group Tuesday also called on Santorum to resign his leadership post in the Senate.

Santorum made the comments during an interview with The Associated Press. During that 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 interview published Monday.

CNN's Bill Schneider offered his analysis of the controversy for CNN's Heidi Collins:

SCHNEIDER: I believe the statement he originally made, that first statement equating consensual gay sex with bigamy, incest, polygamy, those things are crimes, clearly, under the law. They're prosecutable crimes. And adultery, at least, is widely considered an immoral act, even if it's not a crime. He is essentially criminalizing or saying the Supreme Court should endorse the criminalization of consensual gay sex.

That is a statement that a lot of Americans would regard as prejudiced. The problem is a lot of Americans regard it as prejudice, but a lot of Americans regard it as a statement of morality. It's a statement that divides the country more or less down the middle.

COLLINS: Gay rights groups and Democrats alike are comparing this to the comments that Trent Lott made about segregation. What do you think? Are there differences in what he said and what Trent Lott said?

SCHNEIDER: Well, many people would condemn both of them as statements of bigotry. The difference is that bigotry against homosexuals is still widely accepted in the United States, primarily because to many Americans it's based on religion. A lot of religious Americans of different faiths and creeds believe that homosexuality being condemned by the Bible is something that is immoral and unacceptable.

Senator Santorum tried to get out of it by saying, I think somewhat puzzlingly, that he likes or accepts homosexuals, he just condemns homosexual activity or behavior, which is a very strange distinction to make. But a lot of Americans agree with that particular form of prejudice and say it's a statement of moral principal.

In the case of racism, well, to a lot of Southerners 75, 80 years ago, racism was a statement of moral principal.

COLLINS: You raise an interesting point. I actually heard some of the Republicans who were defending him say last night on television morality is not bigotry. What's your reaction to that?

SCHNEIDER: That is exactly the problem. About half the country -- I'm not sure of the percentages here -- a lot of Americans consider it bigotry. But some Americans consider it a statement of morality. That's the difference between this and the race issue. And the basic problem here is that to many Americans this is a religiously dictated statement of morality and when things are deeply rooted in religion, like people's views on abortion, for instance, It's very hard to say that's simply a prejudice.

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