Rick Santorum, the Senate's third-ranked Republican who is under fire from gay rights groups and Democrats, says he has "no problem with homosexuality - I have a problem with homosexual acts."
In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press two weeks ago, Santorum, R-Pa., said he believes homosexual acts are a threat to the American family. He drew criticism from gays and Democrats after parts of the interview - during which he compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery - were published Monday.
"I have no problem with homosexuality - I have a problem with homosexual acts, as I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships," Santorum said during an interview taped April 7 in his Senate office.
"And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual," he said. "I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it's not the person, it's the person's actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions."
Given a chance to clarify his comments before the story was published, Santorum said: "I can't deny that I said it, and I can't deny that's how I feel."
The interview lasted more than an hour and covered a range of topics.
Democrats and gay-rights groups, in Washington and Pennsylvania, called on GOP leaders to remove Santorum from the Senate leadership after the interview was published.
But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., defended Santorum, saying, "Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics."
Conservative Republicans, including former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, rallied to Santorum's defense.
"I think that while some elites may be upset by those comments, they're pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is," Bauer said.
During Santorum's interview with the AP, he brought up a pending Supreme Court case over a Texas sodomy law within the context of his discussion on homosexual acts.
"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 polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
On Tuesday, Santorum's office released a statement to underscore that those comments were made in the context of the court case.
"My discussion with The Associated Press was about the Supreme Court privacy case, the constitutional right to privacy in general, and in context of the impact on the family," Santorum said in the statement. "I am a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution. My comments should not be misconstrued in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles."
Santorum also criticized, during the April 7 interview, what he called "a whole feminist movement that's built around the fact that fathers are unnecessary." He answered "absolutely" when asked if liberalism takes power away from the family.
"The basic liberal philosophy is materialistic, is relativistic, to the point of, you've got candidates for president saying we should condone different types of marriage," Santorum said. "That is, to me, the death knell of the American family."
By Lara Jakes Jordan