WASHINGTON — Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate's third-ranking Republican, sought Thursday to weather the uproar over his recent remarks on homosexuality, despite emerging criticism from a handful of GOP lawmakers and groups.
In muted statements this week, three Republican senators -- Gordon Smith of Oregon and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine -- expressed disagreement with Santorum's comments.
In an April 7 interview that was published this week, Santorum told Associated Press that he opposed a constitutional right to privacy that would protect consensual gay sex. He linked gay sex with incest, polygamy, bigamy and adultery. He also spoke out against "homosexual acts" and behavior such as sodomy, polygamy and adultery, which he called "antithetical" to a healthy family.
But Santorum insisted he was not criticizing homosexuality per se. In response to his critics, he has said his comments have been misconstrued and that he was merely repeating standard legal views concerning the constitutionality of laws forbidding sodomy.
But Smith said Thursday that Santorum had used language "hurtful to the gay and lesbian community," and that he hoped the U.S. Supreme Court soon would rule to strike down a Texas anti-sodomy law.
In a statement Wednesday, Snowe said: "I believe Sen. Santorum's unfortunate remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity." On Tuesday, Collins called Santorum's choice of words "regrettable" and his legal analysis "wrong."
The Republican Unity Coalition, which describes itself as a gay and heterosexual alliance of GOP members, demanded an apology from Santorum. Advisors to the coalition include former President Ford; Mary Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian; and Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who is the only openly gay Republican in Congress.
The coalition said Wednesday that Santorum made "false and harmful comparisons that do not distinguish between conduct that is harmful and hurtful to fellow humans and society, and conduct between consenting adults in the sanctity of their own home that harms absolutely no one."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in an interview Wednesday on MSNBC, said Santorum "may have been in-artful." In his experience, McCain said, "the best thing to do is to apologize if you've offended anyone -- because I'm sure that Rick did not intend to offend anyone."
The Christian Coalition of America defended Santorum on Thursday.
"This is simply a great example of mean-spirited politics," said Roberta Combs, the group's president. "Bankrupt of positive ideas, liberals pursue this issue in the hope of attention with exaggerated explanations of Sen. Santorum's statement. Democratic politicians and the left-wing press should be ashamed for inhibiting freedom of speech."