Politics
Politics

Rick Santorum Denies Linking Homosexuality and Bestiality

| by Reason Foundation

By Jacob Sullum

Rick Santorum's comments about gay marriage in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press have been getting a lot of mileage lately, but they are often misreported. In a January 4 profile of Santorum, for example, The New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg describes the notorious quote this way:

He once offhandedly invoked bestiality in arguing that states should have the right to regulate homosexual acts. "That is not to pick on homosexuality," he said. "It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog." 

That makes it sound as if Santorum was saying homosexuality is not as bad as pedophilia or bestiality, which is the interpretation he embraced in a January 4 interview with CNN's John King:

King: How do you connect homosexuality to bestiality? And you went on in that interview to talk about bigamy. Connect those dots.

Santorum: Hold on a second, John. Read the quote. I said it's not, it is not; I didn't say it is. It says it's not. I'm trying to understand what you're trying to make the point. I said it'snot those things. I didn't connect them; I specifically excluded them.

Nice try, but the relevant passage (which King read) does not support that gloss:

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. 

In context, the it clearly refers to marriage, not to homosexuality. Santorum is saying marriage traditionally has excluded certain relationships, including those between people of the same sex, between adults and children, and between people and animals. He is not necessarily saying these relationships are morally equivalent, although that seems to be the implication. In any event, Santorum makes it pretty clear in the same interview that he thinks sex between two men is bad enough that it should be a crime:

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. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution; this right that was created, it was created in Griswold — Griswold was the contraceptive case — and abortion. And now we're just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you — this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it's my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that's antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family....

The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. 

Here Santorum is not just objecting, on constitutional grounds, to the Supreme Court's interference with a state's decision to criminalize homosexual sex; he is defending such laws, saying sodomy "destroys the basic unit of our society." Evidently he does not think that position will help him win the Republican nomination. As with his bizarre denial that the federal government imprisons nonviolent drug offenders (with families!), Santorum is not defending his principles; he is trying to weasel out of their implications.