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'Santorum engages, enrages'

Last modified: 1/6/2012 12:00:00 AM
Rick Santorum was booed at the end of a speech yesterday in Concord after engaging in a lengthy argument with college students over same-sex marriage and repeatedly asking a young woman whether she thought it was okay for three men to get married.

The former Pennsylvania senator, who is known for his socially conservative beliefs, got into the argument while addressing a crowd of mostly college students yesterday afternoon at the Grappone Conference Center, his fourth stop of the day as he campaigned across the state in advance of Tuesday's primary.

"You - the one who wants to do this - tell me the justification. What is the public purpose?" Santorum said, after a young man asked how gay marriage affected him personally and why the Republican candidate, who is Catholic, wouldn't support gay marriages granted on legal rather than religious grounds.

As students in the crowd began shouting, Santorum pushed back: "Oh no, no, no, we're not shouting out here." He told the students to make their case for gay marriage, and he would respond.

"How about the idea that all men are created equal, and like, the right to happiness and liberty?" a young woman said to applause.

"If you're not happy unless you're married to five other people, is that okay?" Santorum said. "If your point is people should be allowed to do whatever makes them happy."

"As long as they don't harm other people," the young woman said. Santorum asked the woman to explain but interrupted when she suggested that people understood right from wrong: "So there is some objective standard?"

"It's morally right for two men to have the same rights as a man and a woman," the woman said.

"Well, what about three men?" Santorum said, as shouts erupted from the room.

The back-and-forth went on several questions longer - Santorum again asked the woman whether three men should be able to marry, prompting a frustrated "That's not what I'm talking about" - and the candidate continued to speak for another 45 minutes.

He was loudly booed on his way out of the event, circled by TV cameras and several still-angry speech attendees: "Hey, your Iraq policy sucked," one man shouted.

The contentious exchange over gay marriage was an example of Santorum's tendency to engage - and sometimes debate - with voters at events, a style he hasn't shifted as he tries to translate the momentum from his near-victory over Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses into a strong showing in the first-in-the-nation primary.

In town hall meetings yesterday and Wednesday in New Hampshire, Santorum spoke briefly about his beliefs before soliciting questions from the crowd, which at each event has been large in the wake of his Iowa finish.

He responded to questions at length, sometimes only reaching several in the course of an hour. Often, he turned to his audience with questions of his own, asking voters to name the full retirement age under the Social Security program (66) and the age when most people begin collecting benefits (62).

"See, this is called participatory democracy," Santorum said during a town hall meeting at the old Northfield train station yesterday morning. "You guys are good at this."

Santorum told the Northfield crowd that politicians need to be more open with the public. "You say, why do we have so much acrimony in Washington, D.C.? It's because people don't hear the truth," he said. "What a president is supposed to do is trust the American public with the truth."

President Obama hasn't done that, Santorum said. He said the president's "top-down" approach to government was exemplified by the health care reform passed under his administration - an act Santorum vowed to repeal or at least de-fund. "Obama-care's a game-changer," he said. "It makes every single American dependent on the government for your life. And it will change the nature of this country."

Obama wants to create a culture of dependency, Santorum said. "It's over, folks," he said. "What your ancestors fought and died for, the ability to be free and not dependent, not hooked on the federal government, will be given away."

As he spoke to students yesterday afternoon at the Grappone Center, Santorum again drew upon his differences with Obama, arguing that the president's vision for the country was fundamentally opposed to what its founding fathers intended - a "system of God-given rights and free people."

"Can we bring Americans together on this basic principle of what America was founded on?" Santorum asked.

While finding common ground is an important quality in a leader, he said, "it's easier to compromise if you're starting out from the same assumptions."

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)


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