Senate Republican Caucus chair Rick Santorum is a bigot. And, like other bigots before him, he seeks to promote his views by claiming the American people face "threats" that do not exist.
Santorum, the junior senator from Pennsylvania, is blatant about his bigotry. He says gays and lesbians in consensual, monogamous and loving relationships "undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family." He is equally blatant about his fearmongering, arguing, "(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."
To Santorum's view, permitting gays and lesbians to form relationships "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."
In a democracy as freewheeling as ours, Santorum has a right to his point of view, just as people have a right to believe in trickle-down economics and other dangerous fallacies. But Santorum has no right to have his retrograde viewpoints treated with respect. To do so would be to legitimize the bigotry that has eaten away at his ability to recognize - or at least respect - reality.
Charges that striking down laws that criminalize same-sex relationships will eliminate restrictions on incest and polygamy used to be common in politics. But even on the right wing of the spectrum, such talk has become less frequent in recent years. Why? Because states across the country have been striking down sodomy laws for 40 years, without weakening laws against incest and polygamy.
Twenty-six states, including Wisconsin, have repealed sodomy laws since Illinois did so in 1962. The courts have struck down sodomy laws in nine more states.
More than two dozen states have passed laws barring different forms of discrimination against gays and lesbians since Wisconsin did so in 1982. Hundreds of communities have done the same. The courts have upheld these moves, while continuing to recognize the ability of states and communities to impose sanctions against incest, polygamy and other behaviors on Santorum's list.
So the senator is wrong. And, because of his position and history of dealing with social issues as the fair-haired boy of the Republican right, it is fair to assume that he knows better. So it is certainly reasonable to believe he is motivated not by genuine concern about the spread of polygamy but by his bigotry against lesbians and gays.
Fair enough. There are plenty of bigots in politics. And, in this democracy, voters are permitted to elect them.
However, voters are also permitted to ask whether Santorum speaks for the Republican Party. He is, after all, the chair of the party's caucus in the upper house of the Congress.
While Republican moderates criticize Santorum, the Bush White House is refusing to comment and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is defending Santorum.
It is time to clarify matters.
When former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., seemed to suggest a sympathy for the Dixiecrat racist bigotries of the 1940s, the Bush White House and key Republicans in the Senate went out of their way to distance themselves from that senator's sentiments. They ought to do the same with regard to Santorum, unless, of course, they share his point of view.
Copyright 2002 The Capital Times