WASHINGTON, May 1-- Four parents of gay children had a fiery private exchange tonight with Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. The meeting did not go well, and Mr. Santorum, who has infuriated gays by likening homosexuality to incest and bigamy, left in a hurry, tripping over a chair, the parents said.
"What we tried to do in this meeting was reach him on a human level, and we found no humanity there," said Melina Waldo, a former constituent of Mr. Santorum who lives in Haddonfield, N.J. She said he was "condescending, belligerent, argumentative and arrogant."
A spokeswoman for Mr. Santorum, Erica Clayton Wright, described the meeting as "a very professional and polite exchange." She declined to give details, however, saying, "Constituent meetings are private."
Mr. Santorum has been under fire from gay rights organizations for nearly two weeks, since The Associated Press published an article quoting his views on a Supreme Court case that involves a ban in Texas against sodomy. Mr. Santorum, third in the Senate Republican leadership, said states should have the right to legislate against homosexual activity, just as they prohibit bigamy and incest.
The remarks prompted widespread criticism and calls by gay rights groups for Mr. Santorum to resign his leadership post. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have stood by him.
The parents who met tonight are members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, an advocacy group that has not spoken publicly before on Mr. Santorum, but is in Washington to lobby lawmakers on issues like hate crimes and safe schools for gay youths.
Also present for the meeting were Mrs. Waldo's husband, Richard, a lifelong Republican who he voted two times for Mr. Santorum, and two constituents of the senator, Fran and Allen Kirschner of Philadelphia. Mrs. Kirschner said she spent much of last week telephoning Mr. Santorum's office to request a meeting and was told today that the senator would see them for 10 minutes.
The meeting, with a heated exchange, ran 30 minutes, the parents said. The parents, Mrs. Kirschner said, insisted that the comments were hurtful to their children. Mr. Santorum, they said, wanted to talk about legal terms, insisting that he was just arguing against a right to privacy and that his remarks had been taken out of context.
Finally, an aide interrupted the session and told Mr. Santorum that he would have to leave.
"He couldn't get out of there fast enough," Mr. Kirschner said.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company