Santorum's No-Sex Platform

By Dan Reines,
April 30, 2003

At some low level, your heart's gotta go out to Rick Santorum.

Not because the left hates him; that's to be expected, really. The third-ranking Republican in the United States Senate, Santorum earned an avalanche of criticism after the Associated Press published a profile of him in which he weighed in on Lawrence v. Texas. That's the case pending before the Supreme Court in which two men were arrested on sodomy charges after Houston police responded to a false complaint and found them having sex in a private home. "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home," the Pennsylvania Senator reportedly fumed, "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 went on to group gay marriage with bestiality and pedophilia.

Well, bad news and bad politics travel fast, particularly in Washington, and as soon as the story hit the wire, gay-rights advocates were calling for Santorum's head, or at least his party leadership post, as were Democrats and many in the press. But hey, what the hell, it's just the commies, the queers and the damned liberal media, right? Well, yeah. Except that it's not. 'Cause now Owen Allred is pissed at Santorum too.

Who's Owen Allred? Why he's the eighty-nine-year-old patriarch of Utah's pro-polygamy sect United Apostolic Brethen, that's who, and he told the Philadelphia Daily News last week that Santorum's comments that is, his brazen lumping of buggery with multiwifing made him "so mad I want to swear" (which is to say, pretty goddamned mad). Not that Allred necessarily disagrees with Santorum; not in principle, anyway. As he'd explained the day before to his hometown Salt Lake Tribune, "The people of the United States are doing whatever they can to do away with the sacred rights of marriage." (And marriage. And marriage. And marriage.) Nonetheless, Allred said (in the Daily News) that the Catholic conservative "is an insult to Christianity." Yikes. This from a man with eight wives.

Of course, the pile-on doesn't end there. Even Santorum's GOP colleagues have gotten into the act. "Senator Santorum's views are not held by this Republican and many others in our party," said Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, and Maine's Olympia Snowe added, "I believe Senator Santorum's remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity." (As damning as they were, neither statement held the entertainment value of Nebraska Democrat Bob Kerrey's reported onetime crack: "Santorum? Is that Latin for 'asshole'?")

Ah, but back to the matter at hand, the plight of poor, misunderstood Rick Santorum. As David Smith, a senior strategist with the Human Rights Campaign, put it, "He seemed to put gay people on the same moral and legal plane as someone who would commit incest."

Santorum, of course, says he meant no such thing. "I have no problem with homosexuality," he said in the same interview. "I have a problem with homosexual acts" all but begging for an update to the old drug joke: Problem with gay sex? Move to the Castro, Rick. No more fucking problem.

The great irony here is that Santorum's right examined more closely, his comments on Lawrence v. Texas aren't actually homophobic after all. No, as it turns out, Rick Santorum isn't anti-gay, he's just anti-sex.

Think that's silly? After all, Santorum has six kids. It's safe to assume he's been engaging in something resembling sex with Mrs. Santorum. But read the quote again. "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 . . . "

Catch that? Not consensual gay sex, but consensual sex. Period. It seems Rick Santorum is making a pretty classic slippery slope argument, the twist here being that the slope begins sloping not in the bedrooms of West Hollywood and the West Village, but in your bedroom and mine as well. In the Senator's eyes, the right to sexual privacy among consenting adults is not a given: "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 [v. Connecticut]," Santorum said, referring to the 1965 case that established the Constitutional right of heterosexual couples to use contraception within the context of a marriage. Yeah. So if Santorum can't get behind that, he's not going to get behind any form sexual privacy, your own particular kinks or lack thereof notwithstanding.

All of which brings us to the heart of the matter. Santorum has been vilified by the left and abandoned by some on the right for turning a legal case into a platform for his bigoted views, and rightly so. But in reality, Lawrence v. Texas isn't about gay sex at all. Well, okay, it is the sodomy practiced by the couple in question would have been legal if one of them had been a woman (or a horse gay sex may be illegal in Texas, but bestiality isn't). But what Lawrence v. Texas is really about is privacy. In Texas and in more than a quarter of all states, it's worth noting it remains illegal for consenting adults to express their sexuality, even in private, unless their sexuality meets standards laid out by the state legislature.

If you're straight, do you perhaps think this doesn't concern you? Think again. Because Santorum's right it is a slippery slope. Seen as a privacy issue rather than a sex issue, the high court's decision in Texas impacts your right to oral sex, it impacts your right to masturbation, it impacts your right to contraception hell, it impacts your right to everything but the missionary position, man on top, and it may just impact that too. In short, it impacts your right to any kind of sexual autonomy, particularly if you happen to be part of a "second-class" relationship.

That's not my term, by the way. William Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, classifies heterosexual marriage as "special" and all other relationships as second-class in other words, not just the cousin-fuckers and the wife-collectors, but committed homosexual relationships and, yes, unmarried, sexually active straight couples (uncomfortable yet?). And, as Donohue puts it in throwing his organization's considerable support behind Santorum, if the law allows those kinds of relationships, well then we may as well "just let everybody fornicate and let kids be born into a society of bastards."

Uh-huh. The way I see it, as long as Texas law and the U.S. Constitution fails to protect our most private rights, well, a society of bastards is exactly what we've got.

Dan Reines is a writer living in Los Angeles. This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in