Santorum Won’t Be the GOP Nominee, But Still Won’t Stop Talking About Gay People

Rick Santorum is not going to win the GOP nomination. Nate Silver’s algorithms calculate that Romney has a roughly 98% chance of winning the nomination — and while Silver’s not infallible, it seems pretty safe to say that he’s smarter than Rick Santorum. So why do we need to keep dwelling on what he says, no matter how homophobic it is? Well, while none of the GOP frontrunners remotely support gay marriage or generally considering us above second-class citizens, Santorum has made badmouthing gays a central part of his political stance since the good old days of the coining of the term “santorum.” His views are, put politely, extreme — some of what he says wouldn’t sound surprising coming from Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps after they’ve had a drink or eight down at the weekly meeting of the Unhinged Reactionary Religious Talking Heads, which is held at Buffalo Wild Wings. The difference is that Santorum isn’t actually a fringe religious leader; he’s a fairly legitimate contender for the GOP candidacy to the President of the United States of America, and many people take him very seriously. We don’t need to freak out over what Santorum is saying because he might be our next President, but we should pay attention to what he says at the very least because people are listening. And even after Santorum loses the nomination, they’re not going anywhere.

For instance, this week brought us the story of a woman in South Carolina who confronted Santorum about the fact that her son is gay — and she’s still supporting Santorum. Instead of asking him to treat her son like a human being in terms of his policy recommendations, she asked “how to deal” with the conflict in her political beliefs vs. her life and family. Which, right off the bat, tells you a lot about how much of the population Santorum’s rhetoric sounds only slightly objectionable to, if at all. And even more telling is what Santorum (and his helpful wife, Karen, bless her heart) responded with, because it probably sounds completely reasonable to a large portion of the population. Here’s why it isn’t.

1. “Rick does not hate anyone. He loves them. What he has simply said is marriage shouldn’t happen.”

Even leaving aside the more obvious logical problem with this statement — since all the “rational” arguments against equal rights for gays, like the idea that gay marriage will harm straight marriage, are baseless, prejudice is the only real explanation — it’s beside the point. If Santorum, against all odds, became President, it wouldn’t matter whether he “loves” us or not. What would matter is that he doesn’t want us to have the same rights as other Americans. An elected official’s job isn’t to “love” his constituents — it’s to represent their interests and protect their rights. Since Santorum clearly has no interest in doing either of those things, how much he likes us is pretty irrelevant.

2. “There’s all sorts of other relationships that people have, and they are valuable relationships. Whether they’re amorous relationships or friendship relationships or familial relationships, they’re all important, they all have value, they all should be affirmed, but that does not mean that we should change the laws to order, to create an atmosphere where children and families are not being promoted.”

Forgive me for thinking this sounds suspiciously like “separate but equal.” It’s not that same-sex relationships and families aren’t as good — that is, as “valuable” or “important” or worthy of being “affirmed” — as straight ones, it’s just that they don’t need, you know, the same treatment under the LAW. Aside from the hypocrisy (it’s a little cruel to reassure someone that their relationship “should be affirmed” while simultaneously refusing to actually affirm it, no?), it ignores the reality that many LGBT couples and families live with. While many of us do care about being affirmed, most of us also care about being able to visit our kids and partners in the hospital, qualify for tax breaks, and retain parenting rights in the case of a divorce. By acting as if the only thing at stake is our delicate gay egos being hurt, Santorum ignores and thus tacitly approves of the fact that we’re economically and legally disadvantaged every day.

3. “This is not an issue of not doing what I’m called to do, which is to love everyone and accept everybody and, uh, but this is a public policy difference. I think the problem is that some see that public policy difference as a personal assault.”

This one comes last because it is, arguably, the worst. And also arguably the most heartbreakingly sincere thing that you’ll ever hear come out of an anti-gay’s mouth — because there really are people who believe that if you could just understand that it’s not a personal issue, you would be willing to agree to disagree. The thing is, though, that denying gay individuals and gay families equal rights under the law IS  a personal issue. It has to be; since our equality wouldn’t negatively impact a single other group, and would in fact provide stability for families and children, provide stimulus money as weddings are held, and possibly even decrease the demand for mental health services as our stress as stigmatized people lessens, this isn’t about anything but us. Prohibiting someone from marrying their partner, adopting their child, or being out at work without fear of job loss has the sole result of making their lives worse; or, if we’re being very generous, making their lives worse and also helping a conservative politician get elected or stay in office. Gay people are very well aware that the straight people in our communities can go blissfully unaware, often forever, of all the social institutions and legal rights we don’t have access to; it’s clearly not about them. But as long as people like the South Carolina Santorum supporter can go on believing that people who fight for specifically anti-gay legislation don’t mean for it to hurt anyone “personally,” they can go on believing that it’s fine to get behind it despite the gay “person” in their lives.

 

As far as conversations about gays on the campaign trail, this woman is mostly an anomaly; Santorum has in fact been called out on his homophobic views nearly constantly. And again, it seems fairly unlikely that he will ever become President of the United States. But even after Santorum retreats to the Elysian fields of wherever the other nominee wannabes go after not making it, the people who thought his ideas sounded reasonable, if not electable, will still be here. And there are more of them than it’s comfortable to think about — while Santorum did find himself booed in New Hampshire by one audience and eventually lost the primary, he was also warmly received by many a voting Republican. It’s worth it to pay attention to what he says, if only so that when someone else repeats it, you’ll be able to tell them why they’re wrong.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 737 articles for us.

30 Comments

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    It is pretty terrifying to think that there are so many people out there who can’t understand why we as a community “take it personally.” You are right, the issue affects us, and only us, as personally as any issue could. “Separate but equal” is such a fundamentally flawed concept that eventually the public refused to accept it in terms of race. I can’t understand why so many people are comfortable accepting it with regard to sexuality. (And no, we didn’t chose this any more than anyone could chose the color of their skin.) I feel awful for that woman’s son, because she will probably never realize how disrespectful her beliefs are. I can’t figure out, with all the unrest and disparity in our nation today, how it is that gays are seen as such a huge threat and as a platform to stand upon while promoting discrimination and ill will. Aren’t there serious, legitimate issues at hand for a potential Presidential candidate to stand behind other thanthe issue of keeping us from enjoying all of the “rights” we as citizens should have??

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    Ever notice how the LGBT community seems to get accused of being bullies when the issue of marriage comes up?

    Like, “Oh, well we can’t give in to these bullies who want to be treated like everyone else!”

    Also, all I heard from Karen Santorum’s mouth was “Blah blah blah gay activits blah blah doesn’t hate anybody blah blah blah”. Is that bad?

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    it drives me crazy when these people say “marriage has been around since the beginning of time”. uh, what?

    In the 1800′s, fathers sold their daughters to the highest bidder with the dowry system. In the Old Testament, men were allowed to have as many wives as they wanted.
    These people talk about marriage like it’s the holy grail or the most perfect institution that ever was. They are delusional.

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    I sadly wouldn’t count Santorum out yet. While he may not win the nomination, there’s still a good chance that Romney will tap him as the VP candidate. Romney will want someone who’s “socially conservative” and not either criminally stupid (Perry), or a festering ball of loathing (Gingrich).

    It’s pretty comforting to know that no Republican has a chance in hell of defeating Obama in November.

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      the plausible scenario your comment elaborated just scared the everloving shit out of me. i had not even considered VP candidates.

      new and unprecedented levels of idiocy. squared!

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      You have more faith in the American people than I do- as idiotic as I find the Republican contenders, I fear their powerful spin machine. Obama and the Democratic party need to work on messaging the things they have accomplished together, in spite of the Tea Party and other conservatives, to get those moderate voters firmly on their side in the presidential race and especially in the congressional races.

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        @Tasha: Presidential Elections very rarely revolve around moderates and independents. Instead, they’re won by the candidate who can bring out more die-hard partisans to the polls. In that respect, Republicans are at a severe disadvantage right now. So far, the primary returns have barely managed to top those from 2008, at a time when all attention is ostensibly on the race. Most of the candidates don’t even have justifiable campaigns, and are just piggybacking off of media coverage. And while media coverage can get you a nomination, it can’t deliver you an election. McCain tried in 2008, and it failed miserably. I don’t think this cycle will play out too differently.

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    I knew something was horribly wrong when my first two thoughts to Karen starting to speak were:

    1) Holy shit, Santorum is letting a WOMAN speak on his behalf!?!?
    2) Umm…what? No, Karen, no, not EVERY parent loves her child unconditionally. That’s kind of the point that that poor son is making: there are far too many people out there that do NOT love their children unconditionally, and your husband’s platform encourages and justifies that conditional love.

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    “denying gay individuals and gay families equal rights under the law IS a personal issue. It has to be; since our equality wouldn’t negatively impact a single other group, and would in fact provide stability for families and children, provide stimulus money as weddings are held, and possibly even decrease the demand for mental health services as our stress as stigmatized people lessens”

    THIS. Thank you, Rachel. Why don’t they get it? It isn’t about them and their stupid prejudices. It’s about making our lives livable :’(

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    I live in a socially conservative town and unfortunately I’ve heard this all before. I work with many people who don’t support gay-marriage because “my religion says homosexuality is wrong, therefore I believe that it is wrong,” and that’s the end of it. You can’t use logic on people like that, and it’s a shame.
    As for marriage existing since the beginning of time? That one hurts my brain. It takes a lot of ignorance to insist that marriage is and always has been in all places and to all people, one identical rule.
    This guy always manages to frustrate me. It’s like a children’s game: Pin the Logical Argument on Rick Santorum. Only no one wins.

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      You know, I can respect their belief that its wrong and therefore that we shouldn’t marry etc. What I can’t respect is when they not only can’t respect that we are never going to agree with them but that they are oblivious as to why we might find things like being told we are repulsive or that we can’t marry and have next of kin rights etc upsetting and offensive. Because if you lack human empathy on that level, as many people seem to, then you are an ass.

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        This. A friend of mine was recently pointing out that a candidate’s views on equal marriage rights is a good litmus test for their ability to think of the needs and wants of other human beings, and to actually consider that other human beings exist and matter. So you’re not a “single issue voter” for looking at marriage beliefs – it’s a good indicator of other belief systems and asshatttery.

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    Thanks for this, Rachel. What really burns me up about how Rick Santorum and others that share his views talk is that they’re so focused on not “hating” but “loving” gay people that they use the semantics to avoid having an actual adult argument. This is not about hate or love or the ten commandments. This is about the Constitution, and equality for everyone.
    I don’t fucking care whether any fool hates me or not. Hate us all you want Santorum! But don’t presume that some kind of moral superiority gives you the power to vote on our having the same rights as you have.

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      “But don’t presume that some kind of moral superiority gives you the power to vote on our having the same rights as you have.”

      I’ve had this argument with people I considered friends before I finally came out to them- it sucks and it’s impossible to get around :(

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    We are closing schools, laying people off. Families are being foreclosed on and being put out in the streets. And all Santorum, running for President can talk about is who is Gay. We need to start looking at what is best for the country. We are not in high school any more. Hello!!! Yes it is a good way to raise money. But I think the Republicans have a “gay agenda”, more than the gay community has. They have nothing to say, so they go for the gay! It will be a dark day for ALL of us if this man wins. It is not just a Gay thing; Santorum has frequently stated that he does not believe a “right to privacy” exists under the Constitution, even within marriage. The boy and girl kind!

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    The other thing is that, as Dan Savage pointed out in his response to this video, it’s not like Rick Santorum is really JUST SAYING that he opposes marriage equality. He compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia. Opposing marriage equality is bad enough, true, but we can’t let him backtrack and act like it’s all about a “policy thing” (as his daughter Elizabeth put it) when his hatred for gay people clearly goes much deeper than that.

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    Thanks for such a great article, Rachel. That point you made about the last quote is SO TRUE; I want to print it out and carry it with me and show it to people every time they tell me to “stop taking it so personally.”

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    Rick Santorum reminds me of everything I hated about Catholic school.

    If he really “loved” me and my fellow queers, he would let us live our lives and allow us to get married and raise children without the barriers that so many American couples experience today. I don’t understand what he has against the individuals in the gay relationships he “affirms” making decisions with their partners regarding their medical treatment, being able to adopt (sometimes their own children), receiving their spouse’s employment benefits, and having the same opportunities as every straight couple.

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