The Santorum controversy arose over former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum's statements about homosexuality and the right to privacy in April 2003. In an interview with the Associated Press (AP) taped on April 7, 2003 and published April 20, 2003, Santorum stated that he believed consenting adults do not have a Constitutional right to privacy with respect to sexual acts. Santorum described the ability to regulate consensual homosexual acts as comparable to the states' ability to regulate other consensual and non-consensual sexual behaviors, such as adultery, polygamy, child molestation, incest, sodomy and zoophilia (bestiality), whose decriminalization he believed would threaten society and the family, as they are not monogamous and heterosexual.
Many Democratic politicians, gay rights advocates, and progressive commentators condemned the statements as homophobic and bigoted, while some conservatives supported Santorum and called the condemnations unfair.
In the interview by Associated Press reporter Lara Jakes Jordan, when asked for his position on the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, Santorum said that the scandal involved priests and post-pubescent men in "a basic homosexual relationship" (not child sexual abuse), which led the interviewer to ask if homosexuality should be outlawed.
- he did not have a problem with homosexuals, but "a problem with homosexual acts"
- the right to privacy "doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution"
- and that sodomy laws properly exist to prevent acts which "undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family"
When Jordan asked "Okay, without being too gory or graphic, so if somebody is homosexual, you would argue that they should not have sex?" Santorum's response concluded:
"In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."
(At this point, Jordan commented, "I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about 'man on dog' with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out," coining a phrase widely used in connection with this incident.)
In the original version of the AP story, Santorum was quoted as saying:
"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."
"Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, whether it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family."
Jordan was forced to produce a recording of the interview, after allegations of bias were leveled against her because she is married to a Democratic strategist.
Public reaction and criticism
Santorum's comments evoked responses ranging from George W. Bush's remark, relayed through spokesperson Ari Fleischer, that "the President believes that the senator is an inclusive man", to sharp criticism from Howard Dean that "gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral", to conservative groups such as the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America who came to Santorum's defense.
Critics reacted to the attack the day after the AP story. Democrats and numerous gay rights groups (including the Pennsylvania Log Cabin Republicans) condemned Santorum's remarks and demanded an apology. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) called on Santorum to step down as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.
The initial wave of critics were quick to denounce Santorum's apparent comparison of homosexuals to adulterers, polygamists, and people engaging in incest. Subsequently, others broadened the critique and argued that Santorum's position was also an affront to heterosexuals as well, for he had stated that he did not believe that the Constitution guaranteed a right to engage in private consensual sexual acts.
After the remarks were made, Dan Savage, a widely syndicated sex columnist who was offended by Santorum's remarks, retaliated by hosting a contest in his Savage Love column for his readers to create an alternate definition for "santorum" to be disseminated into common usage. The definition that won associated the senator's last name with anal sex: "santorum" was defined as "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." Through the use of googlebombs, Savage's new definition for the senator shortly thereafter became the top hit in a Google search for "Santorum."
Defense of the remarks
Santorum defended his remarks, declaring that his comments were not intended to equate homosexuality with incest and adultery, but rather to challenge the specific legal position that the right to privacy prevents the government from regulating consensual acts among adults, a position he disputes because he does not believe that there is a general constitutional right to privacy.
The dissenting opinion in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) took a similar view—that, as the Texas homosexuality law had been ruled unconstitutional because states have no right to interfere with an individual's choice of sexual partners, then the same ruling seems to imply that states have no right to legislate against incest, adultery, or any other private, mutually consensual sexual act not involving minors. Although this is intended as an argument against the ruling of unconstitutionality, some favor this viewpoint.
- Loughlin, Sean. "Santorum under fire for comments on homosexuality", CNN, 2003-04-22. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
- "Santorum defends comments on homosexuality", CNN, 2003-04-23. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
- Farah, Joseph (2003-04-28). Santorum is right. World Net Daily. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
- "Excerpt from Santorum interview", USA Today, Associated Press, 2003-04-23. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
- George, Robert P. (2003-05-27). Rick Santorum Is Right. The National Review. Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
- News From The Right 2003-2004. People for the American Way (2004). Retrieved on 2007-10-02.
- Santorum and gays. Salon.com (2003-04-26). Retrieved on 2008-03-13.
- Gas Huffer. Savage Love (2003-06-12). Retrieved on 2007-10-02.
- An unedited excerpt from the Associated Press interview
- Summary and links to Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas
- Dan Savage's Spreading Santorum website