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Kennedy: Let GOP Decide Santorum’s Fate

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the chamber’s leading supporter of gay rights, declined Wednesday afternoon to call for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum’s resignation from the GOP leadership, saying the Pennsylvanian’s support for criminalizing certain sexual activities should be judged by his Republican colleagues.

Kennedy condemned Santorum’s remarks as “inappropriate,” saying they offended him and many Americans. But he said it wasn’t for Democrats or other activists to call for Santorum to step down from the No. 3 leadership position in the Senate.

“It’s a decision that is going to have to be made by Republicans,” Kennedy told reporters at a domestic policy briefing in his Russell Building office.

During the racial controversy regarding comments made by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) in December, Kennedy called Lott’s comments “a shocking and irresponsible salute to bigotry.” He did not call for Lott to resign as as GOP Senate leader.

But the same day he was issuing that statement he was privately advising Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Kennedy’s choice for Democratic nominee in 2004, to call for Lott’s resignation, which Kerry did. Earlier this month, at Democratic contender cattle call, Kerry boasted of being the first presidential candidate to call for Lott’s resignation.

Kennedy said Wednesday, however, that it was pressure from Republicans and conservatives that eventually led to Lott’s demise. “I think that what brought [Lott] down were the Republicans,” he said, adding that the GOP will again have the final say in the Santorum matter. “That will be true with regards to this as well.”

Dodging a leadership resignation call from Kennedy could be a big relief for Santorum, whose April 7 remarks to The Associated Press published in a profile this week set off a smoldering firestorm with some parallels to the Lott case.

As the author of hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-discrimination Act — both of which he plans to reintroduce next week — Kennedy is the leading spokesman of homosexual rights in the Senate.

In the wide-ranging AP interview, a partial transcript of which was published late Tuesday, Santorum blamed the priest sex scandal in the Catholic Church on “moral relativism” and the right to privacy promoted by liberals. He outlined his religious beliefs that homosexual acts, as well as “a variety of different acts, not just homosexual,” are wrong.

And he supported a states’ right to outlaw certain “individuals’ wants and passions.”

“I think we absolutely have rights [to restrict sexual acts] because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire,” he told the AP. “And we’re seeing it in our society.”

Santorum has pointedly declined to apologize for his remarks, telling constituents at a town hall meeting in Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday that his statement was similar to a Supreme Court ruling in 1986 by then-Justice Byron White. Santorum said his views were “the law of the land. … It is simply a reflection of the law.”

He told a 23-year-old gay constituent that he “respects everyone’s viewpoint” but that there were times he would have to take different stands than some of his constituents. And he blamed the media for taking his comments out of context.

“That’s the way the media sometimes acts,” he said.

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