Why Rick Santorum’s Argument About Same-Sex Marriage Leading To Polygamy Is So Wrong

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) touted his long-standing opposition to marriage equality during a speech in Denver Colorado on Friday, and claimed that the media and gay rights activists had misrepresented his now-infamous 2003 comparison of same-sex marriage to bestiality or polygamy. Santorum clarified that he wasn’t directly likening those relationships to same-sex marriage. Rather, he was predicting that polygamy and incest could be legalized if the Supreme Court ruled, as it did in Lawerence v. Texas, that consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the 14th Amendment:

SANTORUM: If the Supreme Court gives the right to consensual sexual activity then you have the right to incest, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to all sorts of — you have the right to anything if it’s consent. When I said that, the gay community went ballistic and they came after me. The mainstream media called for me to resign because I was comparing homosexuality to incest and other things. No I wasn’t, I was saying if the standard is consent than how do you rationally draw to the line, you can’t. And they aren’t. And subsequent to that the Massachusetts decision and others came down and I stood for marriage. […]

It is not fine with me that New York has destroyed marriage. It is not fine with me that New York has set a template that can cause great division in this country. There is not 50 definitions of marriage.

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But in Lawrence, the Court did draw a line, noting that the right to consent has its limits. “The present case does not involve minors,” the majority ruled. “It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle.”

Santorum’s “slippery slope” argument is ultimately a red herring. Lawrence itself was about whether government can criminalize sex, not whether it is required to provide a legal benefit to certain relationships. That question has been left to the states and six that have extended benefits to same-sex couples have not, as Santorum so proudly predicted, legalized polygamy or incest — recognizing those relationships has never even been considered. In fact, it’s hard to find any evidence of how marriage equality states have “destroyed marriage.” If anything, they’ve only strengthened the institution by allowing more people to enter into it.