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Santorum tangles with voters over gay marriage, health insurance

January 06, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum talks to local residents at the end of a town hall meeting on "Faith, Family and Freedom" in Dublin, N.H.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum talks to local residents… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

Reporting from Dublin, N.H. — In town hall meetings across the southern portion of New Hampshire on Friday, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum continued to tangle with voters over the social issues that shaped his image on the national political stage long before he vaulted into prominence this week as a rival to GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney.

At Dublin School, a private ninth- to 12th-grade boarding school whose headmaster said the audience included three children of gay parents, Santorum’s voice dropped and became emotional as he argued that only a man and woman should have the “privilege” and “honor” of marrying.

“Marriage is not a right,” Santorum said. “It’s a privilege that is given to society by society for a reason….We want to encourage what is the best for children.”

So important is it to have both a father and a mother, Santorum suggested, that even a father who “is in jail and has abandoned” his family is better for a child than two gay parents.

He recalled that after he helped usher welfare reform through Congress in 1996, he was on a panel discussion with author Jason DeParle, who wrote a book about welfare reform.

“One of the things he talked about…was the lack of fathers, and he found that even fathers in jail who had abandoned their kids were still better than no father at all to have in their childrens’ lives.” Allowing gays to marry and raise children, he said, amounts to “robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn’t true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it’s true.”

The audience, half students and half local residents, reacted with snorts and applause.

Earlier, at a town hall meeting in the basement of the public library in Keene, Santorum was gently confronted about health insurance by an emergency room nurse who had just worked an overnight shift and apologized for being tired.

She said her son, who recently graduated from college, had been diagnosed with cancer at age 5. Why, she wanted to know, should her son pay more for health insurance as an adult when he had done nothing wrong and had not caused his own health woes.

“You believe that someone with a healthcare issue should pay the same amount as a healthy person?” he asked.

The nurse replied that she did.

“That’s not how it works,” said Santorum, comparing health insurance to auto insurance. “People with higher risk should pay more. Why should we charge more to people who have done everything right?”

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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