U.S. laws that once criminalized same-sex behavior
Comments by Senator Santorum (R, PA)
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.
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:
What some consider racist comments by Senator Trent Lott (R_MS), and
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:
The Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of
gay Republicans criticized Santorum's comments.
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
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."
Women for America, a fundamentalist Christian group criticized the "gay
thought police" and said that Santorum was "exactly right."
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."
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
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
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: "...no 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
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
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
- 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: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
- Sean Loughlin, "Santorum defends comments on homosexuality; White House
maintains silence on issue," CNN.com at: http://www.cnn.com/2003/
- "Santorum: 'I have a problem with homosexual acts'," Recorded
2003-APR-22, CNN.com, at: http://www.cnn.com/2003/
- "Bush has 'confidence' in Santorum. But Fleischer says president's view
not based on religion," WorldNetDaily, 2003-APR-25, at: http://wnd.com/news/
- "Where Are the Republicans?," Family Research Council "Washington
- "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: http://www.oneplace.com/ This is a temporary listing.
- Ken Connor, "The GOP's 'Cold Feet' on Marriage," Family Research
Council, Washington Update. 2003-APR-28.
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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