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Bush Backs Santorum; Polygamists Balk

The White House said GOP Sen. Rick Santorum is doing a good job as party leader and is "an inclusive man," despite his controversial remarks on homosexuality.

"The president has confidence in the senator and believes he's doing a good job as senator" and in his No. 3 Senate GOP leadership post, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Santorum compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery. He also said the right to privacy does not exist in the Constitution.

"The president believes the senator is an inclusive man. And that's what he believes," Fleischer said.

Santorum is chairman of the GOP conference in the Senate, third in his party's leadership, behind Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Gay rights groups and some Democrats – including several Democratic presidential candidates - have suggested he be removed from the conference post.

The White House also expressed confidence in the leadership of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., in the immediate aftermath of his defense of a 1948 pro-segregation presidential ticket. As the remarks drew backlash, Mr. Bush admonished Lott for them and said it was up to the Senate to decide whether he should remain as majority leader.

Lott resigned soon after. About Santorum, Fleischer said the Senate picks its leaders.

Meanwhile, the leader of one of Utah's largest polygamist sects is objecting to Santorum's comment lumping plural marriage with other practices the Pennsylvania Republican considers to be antifamily.

Owen Allred, 89, head of the United Apostolic Brethren, based in the Salt Lake City suburb of Bluffdale, agreed with Santorum in part.

"He is absolutely right. The people of the United States are doing whatever they can to do away with the sacred rights of marriage," Allred told The Salt Lake Tribune.

But Allred said Santorum's inclusion of polygamy in his list tarnishes a religious tradition whose roots are traced to biblical figures such as Abraham, Jacob and Moses — defiling them as "immoral and dirty."

"Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family," Santorum said.

Polygamy was abandoned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago and it excommunicates members who advocate it, but it is estimated that tens of thousands in Utah continue the practice. Membership estimates for Allred's church range from 4,000 to 6,000, and there also are a number of independent polygamists loosely affiliated with Allred's group.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Santorum defended his comments and said they were similar to what Justice Byron White wrote in the 1986 Supreme Court ruling that consenting adults have no constitutional right to private homosexual sex.

"To suggest that my comments, which are the law of the land and were the reason the Supreme Court decided the case in 1986, are somehow intolerant, I would just argue that it is not," Santorum said.

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