Anti-gay rhetoric hurts Santorum in N.H.

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Rick Santorum debates Mitt Romney in New Hampshire. Although Santorum nearly tied Romney in Iowa, he finished fifth on Jan. 10. – Photo: Courtesy

Rick Santorum's surge to second in Iowa sent his religious right devotees over the moon and left his LGBT detractors dismayed.

Santorum's fifth place finish in New Hampshire on Jan. 10 didn't diminish the attention devoted to the most ardent Christian right candidate in the race for the GOP nomination.

"His bona fides as a religious right leader are unquestionable. But Rick Santorum isn't just close to traditional religious right organizations and activists: the former Pennsylvania senator also has ties to even the most fringe parts of the movement," reported the Right Wing Watch.

In the Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 3, Mitt Romney took first place just eight votes ahead of Santorum. Ron Paul, largely with the support of independent and younger voters, placed third, followed at a greater distance by Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. 

Bachmann only bested Jon Huntsman, who had opted to focus on New Hampshire instead of Iowa, and Herman Cain, who quit the race weeks before the voting.

On Jan. 4, Bachmann, who in the summer had won the Iowa straw poll, quit the race after her single digit showing in the caucuses. With her controversial husband standing to her right, the Minnesota congresswoman said, "Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice. So I have decided to stand aside."

A week later, in the first primary of the GOP race for the nomination, Romney took another first – this time decisively, with about 39 percent of the vote. In distant second was Paul, followed by Huntsman, Gingrich, Santorum and then Perry.

Romney's showing in the Granite State pleased officials with Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group. "Romney has established himself as a candidate who can unite Republicans and a clear threat to Barack Obama in November," said LCR executive director R. Clarke Cooper. "Gov. Romney was consistently clear in the debates that he opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation. While he continues to support a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality – a position Log Cabin strongly opposes – he is also on record saying that such an amendment has been tried, rejected, and is unlikely to ever succeed. Romney has also taken a position that the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' has been settled, and he would not seek to reinstitute the ban on open service."

Cooper also expressed satisfaction in Paul's second place finish and Huntsman's third-place finish, noting that Paul voted against a federal marriage amendment and for the repeal of DADT and that Huntsman favors civil unions for same-sex couples.

"As the nomination process moves forward, Log Cabin Republicans suggest all the candidates recognize the lesson learned from New Hampshire: that inclusion wins," Cooper said.

But that may not be the lesson from South Carolina. 

Even before the vote in New Hampshire, where Romney had long dominated the polls, the pack was chasing votes in South Carolina, the first contest in the South and the real test of whether a candidate could trip Romney from his front-runner status.

Santorum predicted he could take over the race on Jan. 21 in the land of Palmetto trees and live oaks.

South Carolina, which has 50 GOP delegates and nine electoral votes, is a conservative state where Gingrich and Perry were polling strongly until Santorum's post-Iowa windfall.

In 2010, tea partiers dominated GOP politics. So civil rights activists in the state suspect that the most conservative of the social conservatives would perform well on their primary day.

While none of the main GOP candidates has a good record on LGBT rights, Santorum has the worst and boasts about it. That's why Iowa entrance polls showed he appealed most to born-again Christians and "very conservative" voters.

The former Pennsylvania senator opposes lesbians and gays adopting children, called the repeal of the DADT "tragic" and voted against hate crimes reform and banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Listed as one of Time magazine's "25 most influential evangelicals," Santorum was among the first to sign pledges to push for a federal constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. He recently said that as president he would seek to invalidate the legal marriages of gays and lesbians.

Defending his position against same-sex marriage while a U.S. senator, Santorum infamously said,"In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."

More recently, Santorum said kids are better off with a dad in prison than a staight dad.

"Santorum rose by appealing to a uniquely socially conservative electorate," said LCR's Cooper. 

However, Cooper predicted that Santorum's appeal isn't broad enough to win the Republican nomination, or the White House.

On Jan. 5, after a remark comparing homosexuality to polygamy, a crowd of New Hampshire college students, including a number of Republicans, booed Santorum off the stage.

"Winning the White House will require the politics of addition, not division," Cooper said. "It is very early in what promises to be a long and drawn-out nomination process, and Log Cabin Republicans are confident that ultimately our party will select the candidate with the best chance to win the White House. Rick Santorum is not that candidate."

Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights group, said, "Santorum is only exemplary in that no other candidate has made opposing basic rights for LGBT Americans such a guiding principle of his or her public life."

But Romney is also not acceptable to HRC, an early endorser of President Barack Obama's re-election bid. "These men who have pledged to amend the constitution to ban marriage for gay couples, keep the failed 'don't ask, don't tell' policy and oppose basic workplace protections for LGBT people, are not fit to lead," Solmonese said. "The anti-LGBT positions shared by these candidates will not serve them well in a general election."

After South Carolina, the next major balloting in the nomination race will take place in Florida on Jan. 31. The Sunshine State's primary is a winner-take-all contest for delegates.