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Religious Tolerance logo

U.S. laws that once criminalized same-sex behavior

Comments by Senator Santorum (R, PA)

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U.S. Supreme Court case:

On 2003-APR-7, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) commented on a currently active case before the U.S. Supreme Court:  Lawrence v. Texas (2003). The case involves two gay men, John Geddes Lawrence, and Tyron Garner, who were arrested after police found them engaged in anal sex, in private, inside Lawrence's apartment. Under Texas' "sodomy law," only a man and a women were free to engage in oral or anal sexual behavior at the time. Gays and lesbians couldn't legally.

Ruth Harlow, of the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, said: the Texas law "brands gay people as second-class citizens....[The plaintiffs were] punished for engaging in consensual sexual intimacy in the privacy of one of their homes. Texas' 'homosexual conduct' law targets gay and lesbian couples while leaving heterosexual couples free to engage in the very same acts." 1 Similar legislation existed in the contiguous states of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

The law was declared unconstitutional by the court on 2003-JUN-26. Special rights previously restricted to opposite-sex couples are now extended to include all adult consenting couples in private. The sodomy laws that then existed in 13 states fell as a result of the Supreme Court decision. More details on the U.S. Supreme Court case, and on the ruling by the court.

Religious and social conservatives consider this case to be of paramount importance. Since the U.S. Supreme Court found that discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden under the 14th amendment, state laws on adoptions, foster care, hate crimes, employment discrimination and even same-sex marriage could conceivably be impacted in the future.

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Senator Santorum's comments:

In early 2003, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) was the Republican Conference chairman. He is the third most senior leader in the party. On 2003-APR-23, he was interviewed by the Associated Press about the Supreme Court case. Santorum appeared to believe that all sexual expression would be decriminalized in the state if the "sodomy law" is found to be unconstitutional. He is reported 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." Santorum also allegedly described homosexual acts as a threat to society and the family. As is usual among social and religious conservatives, he did not define the nature or magnitude of the threat. He concluded: "I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts."

His main statement appears to be factually untrue. Allowing gays and lesbians to have the same freedom of sexual expression as heterosexuals would not have any impact on the remaining laws banning criminal sexual behavior -- namely bigamy, polygamy (either polygyny or polyandry), incest, bestiality, sexual abuse of children, public indecency, adultery, statutory rape, etc.

His statement rapidly achieved high prominence in the media, which may have been recently sensitized by:

bullet What some consider racist comments by Senator Trent Lott (R_MS), and

bullet What others considered anti-semitic comments by Jim Moran (D-VA).

Although the George W Bush administration earlier criticized the comments of Lott and Moran, they remained silent on Santorum's statement. 2,3,4

Other comments were:

bullet The Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay Republicans criticized Santorum's comments.

bullet Howard Dean (D), a presidential candidate called on Santorum to resign from his Senate leadership post. Dean said: "Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral. 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."

bullet Santorum has defended his comments, saying that "all are equal under the Constitution" and that his remarks in the interview were not meant to be a statement on "individual lifestyles." He also said that his comments were "taken out of context."

bullet Concerned Women for America, a fundamentalist Christian group criticized the "gay thought police" and said that Santorum was "exactly right."

bullet Genevieve Wood of the fundamentalist Christian group Family Research Council, said: "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."

bullet At a town hall meeting, a 23-year-old man who identified himself as "a proud, gay Pennsylvanian" and said he was offended by the remarks. He commented: "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." 2,3

bullet Robert Knight of the conservative Culture and Family Institute said that the president's refusal to support Sen. Santorum "looks like a suicide move." 4

bullet The Family Research Council, a fundamentalist Christian social action group, complained in their Washington Update news release that "...the leadership of the Republican Party is AWOL..." on the Senator Santorum situation. They wrote: " prominent national GOP leader seems willing or able to mount a spirited, principled defense of marriage and family. The question naturally arises: Have Republican leaders been so intimidated by the smear tactics of the homosexual lobby and its Democratic attack dogs that they are cowering in silence?  If Republican leaders cannot mount a vigorous defense of marriage, then pro-family voters perhaps should begin to reconsider their loyalty to the party.5

bullet Ken Connor of the Family Research Council, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family -- both fundamentalist Christian organizations, discussed Senator Santorum's attacks on gays and lesbians, and the reaction to those attacks, on the Focus on the Family daily program of 2003-APR-25. They were supportive of Senator Santorum. 6

bullet Ken Connor, President of the Family Research Council (FRC) was critical of the failure by the Republican leadership to come to the defense of Senator Santorum. He sees it as a part of a larger issue: continuing the denial of equal rights to gays and lesbians. In the FRC "Washington Update." he wrote, in part: "The unwillingness of Republican leaders to stand up and offer a spirited defense of marriage against an aggressive homosexual lobby unmasked a deep rift in the GOP.  Despite the Republican Platform's defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, party leaders were unwilling or unable to defend one of their own on the issue.  Some Republican leaders clearly want to finesse the issue in an effort to pander to the homosexual lobby....Apparently, many Republican leaders believe that pro-family voters can betaken for granted." 7

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  1. Charles Lane, "Court to Hear Texas Case on Gay Rights: Challenge to State's Sodomy Statute Could Lead to Landmark Ruling," Washington Post, 2002-DEC-3, Page A12. Online at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  2. Sean Loughlin, "Santorum defends comments on homosexuality; White House maintains silence on issue," at:
  3. "Santorum: 'I have a problem with homosexual acts'," Recorded 2003-APR-22,, at:
  4. "Bush has 'confidence' in Santorum. But Fleischer says president's view not based on religion," WorldNetDaily, 2003-APR-25, at:
  5. "Where Are the Republicans?," Family Research Council "Washington Update," 2003-APR-25.
  6. "In Support of Senator Santorum: Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson and Ken Connor discuss the recent attacks against Senator Rick Santorum," 2003-APR-25, at:  This is a temporary listing.
  7. Ken Connor, "The GOP's 'Cold Feet' on Marriage," Family Research Council, Washington Update. 2003-APR-28.

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Copyright © 2003 & 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-APR-28
Latest update: 2004-APR-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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