Rick Santorum left the stage of a town-hall meeting to a chorus of boos Thursday after getting into a contentious debate over gay marriage with an audience comprised of mostly young people.
Speaking at the 2012 “College Convention” the fireworks started when a student asked Santorum why he opposed gay marriage. Santorum’s rhetorical style when answering questions is often to ask question back to the audience. But his questions soon prompted shouting from members of the nearly 200-person crowd, which led to an, at times, hostile back and forth.
“How about the idea that all men are created [with] equal rights to happiness and liberty?” a woman in the audience asked the former Pennsylavnia senator after he stated his opposition to gay marriage.
Santorum retorted, “Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?”
When the audience member told him yes, he shot back, “So anyone can marry anybody else, so, if that’s the case, then everyone can marry several people.”
As more students shouted, Santorum tried to end the discussion that had devolved into students shouting over each other in an attempt to drown out Santorum’s words. While he was briefly able to steer the conversation away from the controversial issue, the candidate found himself in the same dangerous territory when a crowd member asked if he would adhere to the conservative pillar of state’s rights in cases when a state legalizes gay marriage and medical marijuana.
“I think there are some things that are essential elements of society to which a society rests that we have to have a consensus on,” Santorum said. “That’s why I believe on things as essential as ‘what is life’ and what life is protected under the Constitution should be a federal charge, not a state by state.”
He then admitted he was not familiar with medical marijuana laws, which led the crowd to press him on how he came to developing his views on issues he was unfamiliar with.
“Well I form that opinion from my own life experiences and having experienced that,” he said. “I went to college too.”
Campaigning in New Hampshire over the past two days, Santorum focused on entitlement reform, dinging President Obama over his fiscal record and what Santorum sees as mishandling foreign policy. But in front of the mostly young audience, he returned to the strong social-conservative message that resonated with many evangelical voters in Iowa. Even before the question-and-answer portion, he spoke about what he sees as the Judeo-Christian values America was foudned on.
After the event, Santorum dismissed the hostile environment, saying only that he wanted “to engage them to get them thinking about why they’re thinking the way you’re thinking.”
Mr. Santorum, a Republican former senator from Pennsylvania, has generated criticism in the past for his views on social issues. In 2003, he argued that the Supreme Court should not overturn state bans on homosexual sex, saying that could create a precedent allowing bigamy, polygamy and incest.
“In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality,” Mr. Santorum said in a 2003 interview with an Associated Press reporter. “That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.”