Amid protests, Santorum delivers message

Despite protests preceding his address, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum spoke to a packed Woosley Hall Tuesday night.
Despite protests preceding his address, former Republican Senator Rick Santorum spoke to a packed Woosley Hall Tuesday night. Photo by Benjamin Ackerman.

Former Republican Pennsylvania senator and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum addressed a packed Woolsey Hall during the Yale Political Union’s first debate of the year Tuesday night.

Santorum argued that government has facilitated the downfall of what he labeled the “traditional” and “nuclear” family model of a man, wife and child while debating “Resolved: the government is destroying family.” He cited welfare, changing marriage laws and popular culture as root causes of what he said is a significant problem facing America. Santorum’s opposition to same-sex marriage sparked protests, with both undergraduate and graduate students holding signs and handing out fliers to those waiting in line for the debate.

“I’m sure there are some people here who don’t care — who think if the American family dissolves and goes away, that it’s just a dinosaur ready for anthropologists to study,” he said. “But of course, there is an impact: It’s a profound impact when the family breaks down, because family is the principle in any healthy society.”

While discussing his views on the meaning of family, Santorum argued that children raised in a family without a mother and a father are much more likely to be in poverty, participate in crime, drop out of school and ultimately receive government benefits later in life.

In arguing that government facilitates non-nuclear families, he cited Wisconsin state law. According to Santorum, an unwed mother of two with an income of $15,000 a year receives around $38,000 in government benefits, and for her, staying unmarried would be economically preferable to marrying a man with an annual income of $38,000 because that would put her in a higher tax bracket.

“As the family has withered, the government has grown. Now I know that just because two tasks may correlate, does not mean they’re causal,” Santorum said, adding that both the number of children born out of wedlock and the level of government spending have drastically increased since 1970. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not.”

Graduate students awaited Santorum’s speech outside of Woolsey Hall, many holding up signs showing the names and images of youth who have committed suicide in reaction to homophobia and bullying.

“We’re law students: we study the First Amendment and we’re not going to disrupt Mr. Santorum’s speech,” Adam Goldenberg LAW ’14 said. “We just think it’s important that we send a very simple reminder to everyone in attendance and the young people who might watch the speech or read coverage of it that the sentiments of Mr. Santorum do not represent the views of the Yale community at large.”

Santorum emphasized the importance of free speech and said that if students were truly interested in understanding the consequences of government policies, they would support open and fair discussion and debate.

“I appreciate all the response — the snake-like response — to all of the facts that I’m laying out here,” he said as some members of the audience demonstrated their disapproval by hissing in the YPU’s tradition.

Graduate students from other schools, such as the School of Management and the Divinity School, were also protesting Santorum’s speech. Panlists for various graduate organizations mentioned potential protests and other responses to Santorum’s visit to New Haven.

“A lot of different graduate students feel that they have different things at stake,” said Patrick Burrows DIV ’14, who was holding signs made by Yale Law School students and signs made by other Divinity School students. “For me, a major part of this is to show people that the Christian religious tradition, which has given so much meaning to my life, does not have to be construed as hatred and toxic messages.”

A group called the Y Syndicate also handed out fliers in Woolsey Hall with quotes from Santorum on topic such as homosexuality, immigration, and environment. Members declined to speak with the News.

“Tonight, Rick Santorum will take our university’s grandest stage and continue to spew ignorance and hate about all kinds of people, including many members of our community. He may be a guest on this campus with a right to voice his opinions, but that does not mean we have to listen,” the flier reads. “We will walk out and refuse to engage in this spectacle. We ask you to join us in sending a message to Santorum, the YPU and your fellow students that this attempt to legitimize ignorance and bigotry is unacceptable.”

Santorum spoke for approximately 35 minutes before answering questions from the audience.

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