Romney, backed by most LGBT Republicans, likely to veer toward center as primary’s most socially conservative contender steps aside

EXITING STAGE FAR RIGHT  |  Rick Santorum, shown at a fundraiser in Texas this year, promised that if elected he would travel the country to repeal state marriage equality laws. (Patrick Hoffman)

EXITING STAGE FAR RIGHT | Rick Santorum, shown at a fundraiser in Texas this year, promised that if elected he would travel the country to repeal state marriage equality laws. (Patrick Hoffman)

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was one of the most virulently anti-gay candidates in the large field of Republican presidential wannabes who started out last year. And most political observers said early on and often that Santorum’s harsh positions against gays and same-sex marriage were dooming his chances to carry the GOP mantle into the general election where moderation wins votes.

Santorum stayed in the race, even as more viable Republican candidates dropped out and threw their support to the more moderate former Gov. Mitt Romney.

But Santorum announced at a press conference Tuesday, April 10, in Gettysburg, Penn., that he was suspending his campaign. And in doing so, he gave a subtle nod to Romney.

“While this presidential race for us is over for me and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting,” said Santorum. He pledged his support for defeating President Barack Obama’s re-election, for keeping Republicans in control of the House, and to help Republicans assume control of the Senate.

Ironically, especially to LGBT people listening to his remarks Tuesday, Santorum counted among his supporters, “people who are overlooked by society or don’t seem to be as valuable as others in society.”

Santorum repeatedly made statements during nationally televised debates and elsewhere on the campaign that undermined LGBT citizens.

He said he wanted to reinstate the ban on gays in the military and said nothing, during one debate, in defense of a gay soldier being booed. Instead, Santorum characterized the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as “tragic” and said it gave gays a “special privilege.”

He also boasted of his active campaign to oust three Iowa state supreme court justices who had ruled that the state constitution guaranteed gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples seeking marriage licenses. And Santorum promised that, if elected president, he would travel the country to try and repeal state laws that allow marriage equality — even in states where voters want to keep those laws. Santorum’s departure now enables Romney to take a great deal more latitude in playing for voters in the vast middle of the political spectrum, a place that should mean a lot less prominence for positions such as Republican opposition to marriage equality.

Santorum noted that his daughter Bella was hospitalized over the weekend and that she is doing “exceptionally well” now, but he acknowledged that her illness “did cause us to pause and think” about her well-being.

Santorum said his campaign started out as being an effort, as a good parent, to ensure that the “American dream” was possible for all children.

But Santorum or his supporters often tried to exploit hostility toward LGBT people and their families. One group of supporters sent out robo-calls and emails saying that Romney “promoted homosexuality in our elementary schools, and unconstitutionally ordered state officials to make Massachusetts America’s first same-sex marriage state.”

A woman on the recording claimed Romney supported “open homosexuality in the military, the appointment of homosexual judges, and the ENDA law, making it illegal to fire a man who wears a dress and high heels to work, even if he’s your kid’s teacher.”

Straw polls and informal surveys and interviews with gay Republicans indicated that most were supporting Romney and none were supporting Santorum during the party’s primaries and caucuses in the early states.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.