Santorum, in N.H., wades into gay marriage debate

Posted: January 05, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. - Rick Santorum found out the hard way Thursday that he wasn't in Iowa anymore, earning boos and catcalls from a roomful of college students for equating gay marriage to polygamy during a spirited debate over traditional values.

Several students challenged Santorum, a committed culture warrior, over his long-standing opposition to same-sex marriage. Instead of saying he disagreed and changing the subject - as many politicians might have - Santorum launched a law-school-style Socratic exercise, answering questions with questions.

"So are we saying anybody can marry anybody else?" the former Pennsylvania senator asked one student. "Don't you have to make the positive argument for why the law should be changed?" he asked several. "What is the public policy reason?"

A young woman suggested that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry because they have an inherent right to happiness.

"If you're not happy unless you're married to five other people, is that OK?" Santorum asked, as students began booing and shouting.

The questioner insisted that such a comparison was "irrelevant" - but when Santorum persisted, she said, "In my personal opinion, go for it." But she said she was talking about two men who love each other.

"What about three men?" Santorum asked.

He said he believed that God created men and women for the purpose of reproduction and that the relationship deserved society's sanction as marriage.

The exchange, in front of about 250 students and a welter of reporters at an event sponsored by New England College, was inconvenient in a way. New Hampshire, which holds its primary Tuesday, has a more moderate electorate than the GOP caucuses in Iowa, where nearly 60 percent of participants described themselves to pollsters as evangelical Christians.

On his visits to all 99 Iowa counties, Santorum sprinkled his stump speeches with references to his long-standing opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Since coming to New Hampshire on Wednesday, he has stressed his economic message, with only occasional references to social issues.

New Hampshire made same-sex marriage lawful in 2010, via legislation rather than a court ruling. Santorum said that he disagreed with the move but that at least the state "did it the right way," by open vote instead of judicial fiat.

Political analysts have said that Santorum's sometimes-overt religiosity and emphasis on social issues might not appeal as much in New Hampshire as it did in Iowa.

"That doesn't fly here," said Linda Fowler, a political scientist at Dartmouth College in Hanover. "This is Yankee land. People are much more reserved talking about things like their relationship with God."

Of course, Santorum is hoping to extend his campaign well beyond New Hampshire. Since his impressive showing on Tuesday in Iowa, where front-runner Mitt Romney beat him by just eight votes, his campaign has raised $2 million, aides said, and will soon buy television ads in South Carolina, which holds its primary Jan. 21 - and which has a GOP electorate with a more religious-conservative cast than New Hampshire's.


Contact politics writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com or @tomfitzgerald on Twitter. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.

This article contains information from McClatchy Newspapers.

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