Santorum was asked if he would be speak out for gay rights in the GOP. After the audience finished laughing, Santorum responded...

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SANTORUM: I would be a voice in speaking out for making sure that every person in America, gay or straight, is treated with respect and dignity and has equality of opportunity. That does not mean that I would agree with certain things that the gay community would like to do to change laws, with respect to marriage or respect to adoption, and things like that.

Nothing says "respect and dignity" like comparing people in loving, consensual, same-sex relationships to dog fuckers and child rapists. If that's how Rick Santorum defines "respect," I'd rather be dissed, thanks. And contrary to efforts to tolerance-wash Santorum's position on gay rights and wish away his infamous 2003 interview with the AP, Rick Santorum hasn't changed his position on gay rights or the dignity of gay people in the eight years since that interview. Santorum has not gone soft (not even runny) on gay rights, says TPM: "Santorum’s famous 2003 'man on dog' comment, which still follows him to this day every time someone Googles his name, wasn’t made while just discussing gay marriage. He was also arguing that people of the same sex shouldn’t have the right to be physically intimate in their own homes....There’s nothing to suggest Santorum has changed his tune there. In fact, he’s still using anti-sodomy laws as a wedge issue, this time against his fellow Republican candidates instead of Democrats."

Rick Santorum respectfully suggests that states should be allowed to arrest, prosecute, and imprison gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Just in a dignified way. And if Rick Santorum had his way everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, would enjoy an equal opportunity to be arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned for engaging in homosexual acts. The completely heterosexual Ted Haggard would go to jail just the same as the completely homosexual Neil Patrick Harris. Equality under the law! God bless America!

As for who wants to change laws: Rick Santorum supports efforts to change the marriage laws as they currently exist in New Hampshire, where same-sex marriage is legal, and he wants to change marriage laws in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, and the District of Columbia. Santorum also wants to change adoption laws: it is currently legal in almost all US states for gays and lesbians to adopt children. Adoption laws vary from state to state, and there are unique legal hurdles in many that gay couples have to jump through, but adoptions by gay and lesbian individuals and couples is only illegal in four US states. Rick Santorum wants to change that—even if it means harming children. From a must-read post by Joel Mathis at the Philly Post:

Talk to adoption experts about gay parents, and you’ll hear a frequent refrain: While many—even most—prospective parents are looking for “healthy white babies” to adopt, it is gay couples who most often take the children no one else wants: Children with disabilities. Older children. Children with problems. “Overall,” one 2001 study found, “gay men and lesbians are more willing to consider and accept children with a broader range of difficulties.” More recent numbers affirm that observation. A 2007 study by the Urban Institute drew on Census numbers to suggest that 21 percent of children adopted by gay men have a physical disability—compared to 2 percent of children adopted by the population at large. That’s an astonishing gap. And an October report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute showed that more than 10 percent of children adopted by gays and lesbians are 6 years or older—”a population,” researchers noted, “generally perceived as more difficult to place.” Half the adoptees had spent time in foster care.

In other words: Gay and lesbian parents are doing damned hard work, providing loving homes to kids that few other people seem to want. They’re doing those kids—and society—a tremendous service. But you don’t hear even the tiniest acknowledgement of that from Rick Santorum.

Changing the law to ban adoptions by same-sex couples—despite a mountain of evidence proving that we are just as fit to parent as heterosexuals—would result in more kids languishing forever in the cruel limbo of foster care. Santorum's election would, writes Mathis, "[harm] tens of thousands of children hoping for a home of their own. But it would be quite a boon for orphanages."

SANTORUM: So you can be respectful. This is the beautiful thing about this country. James Madison called the First Amendment—he called it the perfect remedy. And that is, people of all different backgrounds—diversity, opinions, faith—can come into the public square and can be heard and can be heard in a way that’s respectful of everybody else.

R E S P E C T: You gay people are like dog fuckers and child rapists—but, hey, I say that with the utmost respect! It's not like I have anything against people who fuck dogs and rape kids!

SANTORUM:But just because you don’t agree with someone’s desire to change the law doesn’t mean you don’t like them or you hate them or you want to discriminate against them, but you’re trying to promote —excuse me, promote things that you think are best for society.

Again, Rick Santorum, is the one who wants to change laws.

Santorum wants to change the law in the six states and District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal, and he wants to change the adoptions laws in the 46 states where gays and lesbians can legally adopt children. (And bigots? Banning adoptions by same-sex couples would not put a stop to gay parenting. We know how to make babies, we have the technology, gay men and lesbians can and will knock each other up.) Rick Santorum wants to amend the U.S. Constitution, if necessary, to change those laws. He wants to overrule state legislatures and state courts, and one set of rules on all 50 states: no legal protections whatsoever for same-sex couples—not domestic partnership, not civil unions, not marriage—and no adoptions by same-sex couples.

And he would like us to believe that banning gay marriage and making it illegal for us to adopt somehow doesn't amount to discriminating against gays and lesbians. That's not his goal, Rick claims. All just wants to promote what he thinks is "best for society." And if same-sex couples have to be discriminated against to promote that, well, that's just tough shit-and-lube. To find out what Rick Santorum's desire to promote what he thinks is "best for society" at the expense of same-sex couples looks like in practice, go read this. What it looks like is a woman having her loved ones—her spouse and her children—barred from her hospital room as she lay dying because there are bigoted assholes out are convinced that treating a gay family with dignity and respect—treating a gay family like any other family—isn't what's "best for society."

HILLER: What if you had a son who came to you and said he was gay?

SANTORUM: I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it. And I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible.

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeello, national press! This is a statement that requires some followup questioning!

What exactly does Rick Santorum mean when he says he would love his gay son—and let's all cross our fingers and hope that one (or more!) of Santorum's kids is gay—and what exactly does the candidate mean when he says he would "do everything [he] can to be as good a father to him as possible"? Ask Rick to elaborate on this point. Because religious conservatives have a very different ideas about "loving" their gay children. Rightwing Christian groups advise the parents of LBGT children to reject their gay children, to be actively hostile, to "love the sinner, hate the sin," to withhold approval, to refuse to meet the partners of their gay children, to refuse to attend their gay children's weddings, etc. And these Christian groups tell the parents of gay children that hostility, rejection, disapproval are the how they best express their "love" for their gay children.

It's also the best way to double an already quadrupled risk of suicide:

Young gay people whose parents or guardians responded negatively when they revealed their sexual orientation were more likely to attempt suicide, experience severe depression and use drugs than those whose families accepted the news, a new study says.... The study showed that teens who experienced negative feedback were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as vulnerable to severe depression and more than three times at risk of drug use.

So what did Rick Santorum mean when he said he'd love his gay son and be a good father to him? Truly love and accept him and support his gay child? That would require Rick Santorum to reject Rick Santorum's positions on gay rights. Was that what Santorum meant? Or does Rick Santorum think that parents can best express their love and support for their gay children by turning them into the authorities and seeing them prosecuted and imprisoned for being gay? Or by merely upping their chances of suicide, drug addiction, and depression?