It took President George W. Bush several days to respond to Senator Rick Santorum's unscripted remarks to the Associated Press about homosexuality. He attempted a couple of defensive passes--claiming, at first, through his Delphic spokesman, Ari Fleischer, that he never comments on current Supreme Court cases. But, finally, he came clean, praising Santorum's character and adding that he believes the senator is "an inclusive man."

We assume the president was apprised of Santorum's full remarks. They centered on the completely legitimate question of whether there is a right to privacy within the Constitution and Santorum's view that there is not a perfectly familiar and defensible one. But the full remarks that Santorum made--released only when the senator insisted that his remarks had been taken out of context--reveal something far more elaborate and extreme. Santorum argued that it is impossible to draw a firm, moral distinction between homosexual relationships and bestiality or child abuse. In the context of the recent crisis in the Catholic Church, he described the abuse of minors as a "basic homosexual relationship." More importantly, in making his Constitutional point about the right to privacy, he let slip a clearly political point: that he would disagree with a state that abolished anti-sodomy laws. There is no plausible inference from his comments except that the senator favors the criminalization of private, adult, consensual activity. In the current context, in which the Supreme Court is weighing an anti-sodomy law that targets gays but exempts heterosexuals from prosecution for the same acts, there is also no plausible evidence that he objects to that either. Indeed, neither he nor the president has said anything to distance himself from the position that private, gay sexual relationships should be crimes, and both men have had ample opportunity to do so. In fact, the president's only explicit comments on the discriminatory Texas law came when he was governor, and he endorsed it.

Of course, to believe that all private, gay relationships should exist under threat of police surveillance and criminal sanction is an honest, if draconian, view. But how on earth can the person who holds it be regarded as "an inclusive man"? It will be argued that Santorum is merely reflecting orthodox Catholic doctrine, that he loves the sinners and hates the sin. But Santorum goes much further. He wants to turn this "sin" into a crime, blurring any distinction between his own religious views and civil law. And he invites worrying questions about the principle involved. The theological reason for Santorum's opposition to same-sex sexual relationships, after all, is that they cannot be procreative. But the same could also be said of sex with contraception, a whole range of heterosexual sexual behavior, and even sex between the old or infertile. Does he propose making these "sins" crimes as well? If not, why not? In fact, his disquisition on the evils of gay sex, "man on dog" sex, and child abuse began with his aversion to the Supreme Court's Griswold case, which protected precisely the right to use contraception in one's own home. It is an absolutely legitimate question to ask of Santorum whether he wants to criminalize contraception as well.

But, of course, as a practical matter, he doesn't. His efforts extend only to homosexuals whose only offense is conducting their sexual lives in private. This is not an abstract issue. The current Court case involves two men arrested in their home only five years ago. In Oklahoma, another state with a law similar to Texas's, the punishment for the felony of private, gay sex runs up to ten years in jail, a sentence comparable to that for kidnapping. Whatever else these laws are, they and their backers cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called "inclusive." If the terms of inclusion for gay people in the Republican Party are that they must give up all private sexual relationships under threat of criminal law, then inclusion, in GOP doublespeak, really means second-class citizenship.

The president has appointed some openly gay men to his administration; his party chairman, Marc Racicot, recently met with the Human Rights Campaign; gay Republicans have been included in Republican discussions on the Hill and at the Justice Department; and the president has not reversed any of President Bill Clinton's attempts to support and protect gay government employees. These are all to the good. But the president is wrong to think that this tacit acknowledgment of gay citizens will work indefinitely. He still hasn't even said the word "gay" in public and acts as if it were somehow inappropriate to mention it. But we are not living in the 1950s, and this issue cannot be ducked much longer by hypocritical bromides about "inclusion." Either the president wants to include gay people in the American family, or he wants to cozy up to people who would throw them in jail. He cannot want both. And it's long past time that he made up his mind.

By The Editors