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Two Republicans criticize Santorum for remarks about gays

Conservative group faults GOP for 'timid' support of senator

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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 comments on homosexuality. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (April 22)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Critical comments about homosexuality by a leading Senate Republican were labeled as "unfortunate" by two GOP colleagues, who said they don't represent the ideals held by many in their party.

"Discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society, and I believe Senator (Rick) Santorum's unfortunate remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, according to a statement from her office.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-Rhode Island, released a similar statement on Thursday, disagreeing with Santorum's remarks, published Monday by The Associated Press. In an interview with the wire service, Santorum criticized homosexual activity, citing it with incest and polygamy, among other things, and describing it as a threat to society and the family.(Interview excerpts)

"I thought his choice of comparisons was unfortunate and the premise that the right of privacy does not exist -- just plain wrong," Chafee said. "Senator Santorum's views are not held by this Republican and many others in our party."

Snowe and Chafee are moderates within their party, and their comments are noteworthy because it appears to be the first time Republican senators have rebuked Santorum for his comments.

But a spokesman for Santorum predicted the controversy over the remarks would soon fade away, and conservative groups stepped up their praise for the Pennsylvania Republican. One group, the Family Research Council, faulted Republicans for displaying "timid" support for one of their own.

Most Republicans -- including the White House -- have avoided saying anything at all on the subject, which has touched a nerve with gay rights advocates and many Democrats.

"It is clear that many top GOP leaders cannot bring themselves to offer a spirited defense of marriage for fear of being accused of bigotry by Democrats and their allies among homosexual activists," said a statement from Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council.

A couple of GOP lawmakers have come to his defense, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and his Pennsylvania colleague, Sen. Arlen Specter. "Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics," Frist, R-Tennessee, said in a statement released earlier this week.

Several conservative groups have rallied behind Santorum, who holds the No. 3 slot in the GOP Senate leadership.

'Man of honor'

The Christian Coalition released a statement Thursday, blasting the "liberal organizations and the liberal media" for trying to "foster a jaundiced agenda," and hailing Santorum as a "man of honor."

"Homosexuality clearly is an alternative lifestyle," said Roberta Combs, president of the group. "We stand with and support Senator Santorum."

In the AP interview, Santorum talked about things that are "antithetical to strong, healthy families" and he brought up a case pending before the Supreme Court dealing with a Texas law on sodomy.

"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," Santorum said in the interview. "You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does."

At another point in the interview, Santorum said marriage is a bond between a man and a woman. "That's not to pick on homosexuality," he added. "It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."

Many Democrats, notably those seeking the 2004 presidential nomination, have taken issue with Santorum's comments.

White House mum

The White House has declined to weigh in on Santorum's remarks, in contrast with the administration's denunciation of comments last December by Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, that many criticized as racially insensitive. And in March, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer had harsh words for Rep. James Moran, D-Virginia, who said Jews were a driving force behind the war with Iraq.

In both cases, the men were forced to resign their leadership posts within their respective parties. Lott stepped down as Senate majority leader and Moran resigned as a Democratic regional whip.

Santorum has stood by his comments. He has both defended them as an accurate reflection on the law as it relates to homosexual activity and also complained that they had been taken out of context in the AP story.(Full story)

Challenged about his comments Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania by a man who identified himself as gay, Santorum said he respected the man's opinion, but he stood his ground.

"Obviously, I can't represent everybody's viewpoint," Santorum said.

A spokesman for Santorum expressed optimism Thursday that the controversy would soon go away.

"This story is kind of dying down," said Robert Traynham. "There is really nothing new to report."

CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Capitol Hill Producer Steve Turnham contributed to this report.


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