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Santorum Is Booed by College Crowd for Opposing Gay Marriage

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Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Rick Santorum, whose surprising second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses has propelled him to the upper tier of Republican presidential candidates, was booed during an appearance before college students in New Hampshire yesterday when he spoke of his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is counting on credentials tailored to appeal to socially conservative voters in the state that holds the first primary election on Jan. 10.

That pitch didn’t work with the students. For the most part, they booed him, particularly when he compared same-sex marriage with polygamy.

“I’m surprised I got a gay marriage question at a college crowd,” Santorum joked. “Really, that’s a shock to me.”

His remarks sparked a contentious back-and-forth during an almost hour-long question-and-answer session at a conference center in Concord, the state capital.

“Well, what about three men?” Santorum responded to a female student who asked him about his position on same-sex marriage. “If reason says that if you think it’s OK for two, then you have to differentiate with me as to why it’s not OK for three.”

Defending Traditional Marriage

Santorum initially welcomed the exchanges with several students. Then he tried to move on to other subjects as the audience interrupted and cheered the questioners. He said he welcomed the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage because it was decided by the legislature.

Still, he defended his position to keep marriage a union between a man and a woman: “Because I believe we are made the way God made man and woman, and man and woman come together to have a union to produce children, which keeps civilization going, and provide the best environment for children to be raised,” Santorum said. “I think that is something society should value and should give privileged status over a group of people who want to have a relationship together.”

The reception was an anomaly of sorts for Santorum, who arrived in New Hampshire to large and receptive crowds.

He sought to play up his surge in popularity in a fundraising e-mail today, telling supporters: “Guess what? The GOP establishment does not get to decide who our nominee is. The liberal media does not get to decide who our nominee is. You do.”

Audience Connection

At other events yesterday, Santorum connected with his audiences, focusing on his economic prescriptions and his personal narrative of coming from a Roman Catholic, working-class family with immigrant grandparents.

About 40 minutes into the questions in Concord, the audience clapped when another student asked Santorum whether, as president, he would allow state laws on same-sex marriage and medical marijuana to operate without federal government interference.

“I don’t believe that we can have 50 definitions of marriage,” Santorum said. “Just to say that we should have 50 definitions of what life is. I don’t think that works, either. I think there are certain things that are essential elements of society, upon which society rests, that we have to have a consensus.”

Medical Marijuana

Pressed on his stance on medical marijuana, Santorum mistakenly identified the drug as a narcotic before being corrected by the audience.

“I don’t know my medical marijuana laws very well,” he joked. Still, he called the drug a hazard to society. When someone shouted at him to explain how he formed that opinion, Santorum said: “I form that opinion from my own life experiences and having experiences. I went to college, too.”

The reference to what he may or may not have done during his days at Pennsylvania State University didn’t quell the boos. The jeering was more pronounced than any applause Santorum received at the end.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julianna Goldman in Concord, New Hampshire, at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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