Views on Vice Varied in GOP

Orrin Hatch

The Salt Lake Tribune
April 3, 2003

By Christopher Smith

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania apparently didn't compare talking points before leaving the nation's capital for Easter recess two weeks ago.

The two top-tier conservative Republicans raised eyebrows and ires when each made unrelated comments that illustrate diametrically opposing views of whether polygamy is a morally acceptable behavior.

The clashing opinions underline what has been called Utah politicians' "peculiar tolerance" for polygamy while labeling homosexual lifestyles as aberrant and immoral. At the same time, a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court asking whether consensual gay sex acts can be prohibited by states has drawn comparisons to prohibitions on bigamy. Utah's bigamy statute was used to successfully convict and imprison Utah polygamist Tom Greene last year in the first criminal prosecution of a polygamist in the United States in a half century.

During a spring recess tour of the state, Hatch responded to questions from a St. George audience April 18 about why he wasn't doing more to stop the alleged ritualistic sexual abuse of young girls taken as brides in polygamous clans residing on the Utah-Arizona border.

In a response applauded by polygamous leaders and blasted by anti-polygamy activists, Hatch responded: "I'm not here to justify polygamy. All I can say is, I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people. You come and show me of evidence of children being abused there and I'll get involved."

A few days later in an interview with The Associated Press, Santorum used polygamy as an example of the kind of "deviant" sexual behavior that would be legalized if a Texas statute prohibiting consensual homosexual sex is ruled unconstitutional in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"If the Supreme Court says you have the right to consensual [homosexual] 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 do anything," said Santorum.

Perhaps hoping to exact another political casualty similar to Sen. Trent Lott's pro-segregationist statements last December, Democratic presidential contenders and congressional leaders have criticized Santorum for comparing gay sex to polygamy, incest and bigamy. While GOP congressional leaders have defended the chairman of the Republican Conference from charges of bigotry, the White House thus far has declined to take a position on Santorum's remarks.

Although polygamy was not directly referenced in March 26 oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia told lawyers for the two men convicted under the Texas anti-sodomy law that the statute may be no different than laws prohibiting bigamy.

"You can make it sound very puritanical, the, you know, the laws against bigamy. I mean, who are you to tell me that I can't have more than one wife, you blue-nose bigot?" said Scalia. "Sure, you can make it sound that way, but these are laws dealing with public morality. They've always been on the book; nobody has ever told them they're unconstitutional simply because there are moral perceptions behind them. Why is this different from bigamy?"

While the national debate is over the constitutionality of regulating homosexuality, the Utah question revolves around polygamy. Although defended in Mormon scripture as a divine "principle," the taking of multiple wives was renounced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago. LDS Church President Gordon Hinckley told members at the faith's 1998 fall General Conference that polygamy "is now against the law of God" and that practicing polygamists "are not members of the church" and are "in violation of the civil law" and subject to legal punishment.

Having Hatch, a member of the LDS Church, intimate that many Utah polygamists are upstanding citizens while his GOP colleague Santorum categorizes polygamy as one of the sexual practices that "undermines the basic tenets of our society and the family" reinforces perceptions that some Utah politicians have a moral blind spot.

"All the time you hear Mormon politicians like Orrin Hatch and [Gov.] Mike Leavitt say if it wasn't for polygamy, they wouldn't be here because their ancestors were polygamists," said Tapestry Against Polygamy co-founder Rowenna Erickson, who lived in the Kingston polygamous clan for 34 years before becoming one of Utah's leading contemporary voices against the practice. "Well, if you were conceived out of rape would you go around condoning rape? My hair is still standing on end over what Orrin Hatch said. He's totally ignorant of what goes on in polygamy."

Erickson believes many Utah politicians tacitly condone a polygamous lifestyle that exploits procreation with multiple sexual partners under sham marriages as a form of protected religious freedom. Yet many of those politicians condemn "same sex" marriages and homosexual sex acts as aberrant promiscuity, offensive to society's definition of marriage and undeserving of special legal protection or recognition.

"People try to categorize homosexuality and polygamy as the same sort of thing but it's really apples and oranges," she said. "Homosexuality is between consenting adults, polygamy is done by brainwashing young girls and women into it with a promise of eternal life."

But if Santorum's interpretation of the ramifications of the Lawrence v. Texas case now being decided by the Supreme Court are correct, then the legality of regulating the practice of both polygamy and homosexuality may be at issue.

Responding to a question from a gay constituent at a Pennsylvania town forum Thursday who asked how Santorum could equate homosexuality to bigamy or incest, Santorum replied that his remarks reflected previous Supreme Court opinions.

"Justice [Byron] White said virtually the same thing that I said, that if . . . you tell the states that they cannot regulate in this area . . . then you leave the door open for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated," said Santorum, according to The Washington Post.

White wrote the majority opinion in a 1986 ruling that Georgia's anti-sodomy law did not violate constitutionally protected rights to privacy, stating "to claim that a right to engage in such conduct is 'deeply rooted in this nation's history and tradition' or 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty' is, at best, facetious."

White House view

The White House said GOP Sen. Rick Santorum is doing a good job as party leader and is "an inclusive man," despite his controversial remarks on homosexuality. "The president has confidence in the senator and believes he's doing a good job as senator" and in his No. 3 Senate GOP leadership post, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday. Asked for the president's views on homosexuality, Fleischer said Bush "judges people about who they are." Fleischer said Bush's judgment of people "has nothing to do with their sexuality."