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GOP Factions Divide Over Santorum Remarks

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has become a lightning rod in a battle between religious and social conservatives in the Republican Party over his controversial remarks about homosexuality.

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Santorum came under fire for comments in an April 7 interview with the Associated Press about a <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Texas anti-sodomy law under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. 
Speaking of sodomy, Santorum said, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.”

Gay-rights groups, Democrats and a few moderate Republicans viewed the remarks as anti-homosexual and said he should apologize or be removed from leadership in the party. 
Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay and lesbian Republican organization, called on Santorum to retract this statement and for the White House to repudiate the senator’s remarks.

“We call on all Republican elected officials, including President Bush, to distance themselves from Santorum’s harmful statements that divide the American family,” said the group’s executive director, Patrick Guerriero. “The GOP has been winning elections by campaigning and governing in an inclusive way. Now is the time to renew that commitment.”  
Religious conservatives defended Santorum, saying a large number of Republican voters share his views. Leaders on the religious right accused the GOP of pandering to a gay “agenda” by not defending Santorum more strongly.

Ken Connor of the Family Research Council said the party was “cowering in a corner” over reaction to Santorum’s remarks. 
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday that Santorum will stay on as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the Senate’s No. 3 GOP post, despite controversy over his remarks. Frist said Santorum “has the full 100 percent confidence” of Senate Republicans.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that President Bush still has confidence in Santorum. “The president believes the senator is an inclusive man,” Fleischer told reporters, breaking four days of silence on the issue. 
That comment placed Bush on the side of conservatives, but Fleischer stopped short of saying the president agrees with Santorum. He said the president “doesn’t ask that question about people” and refused to comment on the Supreme Court case that Santorum discussed in his remarks.

Such soft support didn’t sit well with people on either side.
“Senator Santorum’s remarks to the Associated Press betray a deep discrimination against an entire group of Americans that is inappropriate for a senior leader of the United States Senate,” said Elizabeth Birch, head of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy organization for gay rights
The group also took issue with Bush’s description of Santorum as “inclusive.” 
“Senator Santorum’s remarks are deeply discriminatory and are antithetical to bringing people together,” Birch said. “If this is how the president defines inclusion, then it clearly calls into question the depth of compassion in his conservatism.”

Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, wrote an open letter asking Santorum to apologize.  
“(I)t is my belief that statements such as yours, whether intentional or not, fuel the fire of intolerance by lending credence and authority to those among us who seek to defame, insult, and even promote violence toward certain persons and communities in our society,” Gaddy said.

Others hailed Santorum as a champion of the religious right. 
Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission commended Santorum for “courageously sharing his beliefs” despite criticism.

“As Christians, we will continue to support politicians who speak out against homosexuality and to oppose those who support special rights for homosexuals and who seek to support societal approval of homosexual behavior,” Land said in an article in Baptist Press. 
D. James Kennedy, founder and president of the conservative Center for Reclaiming America said removing Santorum from his leadership post would “show that the Republican Party is no longer committed to the pro-family view of homosexuality.” All Santorum did, Kennedy said, “was state the position held by millions of Americans who are committed to their Christian faith.”

Even the most strident opponent of gay rights, independent Baptist pastor Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., jumped on the Santorum bandwagon. 
“Thank you! U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum!” read a page on Phelps’ controversial Web site, Godhatesfags.com.

Phelps says that all countries should outlaw sodomy and make it punishable by death, in accordance with Lev.20:13. 
Religious conservatives were already chafing over recent reports about Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee, meeting with the Human Rights Campaign. It is thought to be the first time an RNC chief had addressed a gay-rights organization.
“When you meet with a group that holds values that are antithetical to those of your base, you’re sending the signal that your base is being taken for granted or is not respected,” Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, told the Washington Post. “It would be like Al Gore meeting with the John Birch Society.”
The Family Research Council’s Connor said Bush “was elected by pro-family, pro-marriage voters,” and that “support of the homosexual agenda” is not why these voters elected the president and a Republican majority in Congress.
Political activist Gary Bauer said religious conservatives will no longer tolerate politicians compromising on cultural and moral issues.

“What will we have gained if we defeat the “axis of evil” abroad and lower our taxes, but at home abandon our founders’ conviction that only a virtuous people can remain free?” said Bauer, president of American Values, a religious right action group.
Bob Allen is managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.