Rick Santorum's baby - a follow-up from Mehdi Hasan

Damian Thompson and others on the right are trying to demonise me for reporting a story that Santorum's baby died at childbirth.

The reaction to my recent blogpost, "10 things you didn't know about Rick Santorum...", has prompted me to write this follow-up. In my original post, I covered some of Santorum's outrageous views (he wants to bomb Iran and dismisses global warming as "junk science"), as well as semi-amusing bits of trivia: for example, he is friends with U2's Bono and he once defended the World Wrestling Federation in court.

I also included, without any supporting comment, criticism or rebuke:

8) When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, Santorum and his wife spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home where, joined by their other children, they prayed over it, cuddled with it and welcomed the baby into the family.

We live in an era of faux-outrage and Twitterstorms so, predictably, I've since been attacked by a coalition of indignant pundits and pontificators who couldn't be bothered to read what I actually wrote: from Telegraph columnists to left-wing bloggers to right-wing Republicans across the pond. The levels of outrage (outrage!) are on the rise. Anyone would think that (a) I had criticised Santorum for the way in which he handled his son's tragic death, or (b) that I was the first to introduce this story into the public domain (perhaps having rifled through his bins or having hacked into his personal email account). Neither inference is true.

For the record, Karen Santorum, Rick's wife, chronicled both the pregnancy and the wider US partial-birth abortion debate in her 1998 book, Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. The book takes the form of letters Karen wrote to her unborn son, including the one where she writes:

When the partial-abortion vote comes to the floor of the U.S. Senate for the third time, your daddy needs to proclaim God's message for life with even more strength and devotion to the cause.

In May 2005, in a New York Times magazine profile of Santorum, entitled "The Believer", Michael Sokolove wrote:

What happened after the death is a kind of snapshot of a cultural divide. Some would find it discomforting, strange, even ghoulish -- others brave and deeply spiritual. Rick and Karen Santorum would not let the morgue take the corpse of their newborn; they slept that night in the hospital with their lifeless baby between them. The next day, they took him home. ''Your siblings could not have been more excited about you!" Karen writes in the book, which takes the form of letters to Gabriel, mostly while he is in utero.

In October 2005, in a Philadelphia City Paper profile of Santorum, headlined "The Path of the Righteous", Mike Newall wrote:

Gabriel Michael Santorum lived for only two hours. The Santorums spent the night in the hospital bed with their lifeless baby lying between them. The next morning they brought the palm-sized corpse to Karen's parent's house. They had their other children pose for pictures and cuddle with Gabriel. They sang lullabies and held a private mass.

On 2 January 2012, New York Times columnist, card-carrying conservative and Santorum sympathiser, David Brooks, wrote:

Santorum does not have a secular worldview. This is not just a matter of going to church and home-schooling his children. When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, he and his wife, a neonatal nurse, spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home -- praying over it and welcoming it, with their other kids, into the family. This story tends to be deeply creepy to many secular people but inspiring to many of the more devout.

On 6 January 2012, ABC News published a long, online feature, on the health section of its website, headlined:

Experts: Rick Santorum Grief Is Typical, But Taking Body Home, Unusual

Yet, I'm now being pilloried and castigated for daring to mention this fact (and, that too, in passing!), which (1) has been in the public domain for more than a decade, (2) was introduced into the public domain by Santorum's wife in book form, (3) may have influenced Santorum's votes in the US Senate, and (4) has been discussed, time and again, not just in newspaper profiles of Santorum, but in recent articles by supportive, centre-right journalists (David Brooks) and neutral TV news organisations (ABC News). The whole thing is bizarre; a classic, manufactured, online controversy. As I said at the start, I went out of my way not to criticize Santorum for the way he behaved after this horrible personal tragedy in his life (despite, incidentally, others having done so); I just reported it. And I did so, you might note, in a blogpost called: "10 things you didn't know about Rick Santorum..." - not "10 bad/evil/crazy/right-wing things you didn't know about Rick Santorum"!

One last, semi-related point: oddball Telegraph blogger and columnist Damian Thompson used his piece in Saturday's paper to accuse me of "exploiting the death of [Santorum's] premature son, Gabriel, to score a political point" and of being "weird and sinister". The words pot, kettle and black come to mind. He deliberately mispresented my blogpost to score his own crude, political point against "Lefties". Oh, and it's a bit rich for Thompson, of all people, to accuse others of publishing "weird and sinister" blogposts.

How about this, from Thompson, entitled, "The Calais 'jungle' and the Islamic settlement of Britain":

How interesting that French police waited until the end of Ramadan before forcibly dismantling the Calais "jungle". That tells us something we really need to remember about a huge proportion of the illegal immigrants seeking to enter Britain: that they are pious Muslims.

Pious Muslims! Outrageous! How about this blogpost from Thompson, entitled:

Indulgence of Islam is harming society

(Btw, can you imagine a headline which read "Indulgence of Judaism is harming society" or "Indulgence of black people is harming society"?)

And in a blogpost on the supposed popularity of the BNP's odious views, Thompson wrote:

The Tories have not made immigration and Islam central to their policies. It's too early to do so, if they want to sanitise their image among middle-class voters. Also, they lack the insight or the courage to recognise that the two issues will soon be indivisible. The tragedy for this country is that it is now, not in ten years' time when our social fabric has been torn to pieces, that voters need a political party to do so.

On second thoughts, "weird and sinister" doesn't do justice to Thompson's persistent Islam-baiting.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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For true victory, LGBTQ+ campaigners must change the culture as well as the law

If you leave Central London or Glasgow, you might not find yourself in Kansas, but it sure as hell isn’t Oz.

The first and oldest charge against the gay man throughout history has been that he is a "gender traitor" – his very existence exposed the vulnerability of the idea of what it is to be a man. In other words, he “plays for the other team”. And so, in the UK as around the world the he was given a choice of lodgings: the closet or the cell.

In 1895, the celebrated playwright Oscar Wilde was sent down to hard labour after declaring “the love that dare not speak its name”, rather than making a denial that might have seen him spared. Nearly 60 years later, in 1954, Peter Wildeblood and Lord Montagu faced a similar trial.  “You are an invert?” the prosecutor asked. “Yes, I am an invert,” he replied (referring to the early 20th century medical notion of homosexuals having an inverted nature).

Wildeblood went on to write the book Against the Law about his time at Wormwood Scrubs. It garnered public sympathy - CR Hewitt described it in the New Stateman as "the noblest, and wittiest, and most appalling prison book of them all".

Calls for change led to the 1957 Wolfenden report, which recommended the decriminalisation of sex for consenting adults in private over the age of 21. This nevertheless took another decade to be implemented, largely due to the opposition of the Conservative home secretary David Maxwell Fyfe. It was the Labour MP Leo Abse who introduced the Sexual Offences Act 1967 as a private members bill under the new Labour governmen. On 27 July 1967 gay men were set free. Or not quite.

Gay sex continued to be criminalised throughout the UK for years after 1967. Legalisation was not achieved until 1980 in Scotland, and then 1982 in Northern Ireland, by recourse to Europe. Whilst few arrests were made, the continued fact of criminality provided cover for a feast of discrimination. Men were sacked, university gay societies banned and queer bashers found impunity.

Half a century on, the LGBTQ+ movement has achieved almost complete legal parity (except of course in Northern Ireland), yet there remain wounds. Not just in the bitter memories of old men, once harassed and imprisoned and electrified, but in psychological humiliations occurring even today. In a casual experiment, two straight male radio hosts decided to walk down the high street of Luton holding hands and secretly filmed the reaction of those around them. They encountered mutters from passers by, visible unease and parents shifting their children out of view. 

It may have come as a profound shock to the hosts, but it is not to the queer couples who every day must mentally accept the pressure of being something quite other, in order to perform even small gestures of public affection. If you leave Central London or Glasgow, you might not find yourself in Kansas, but it sure as hell isn’t Oz.

It’s not the fear of some goon with a baseball bat or vicious words – although hate crime figures are rising – or even dislike of LGBTQ+ people that is the problem, but simply the powerful, undeniable presumption of cisgender heterosexuality. When a queer person has to come out umpteen times a day, whether to her new boss or the chatty lady at the bus stop wondering if she has a boyfriend, she is by definition still in an imposed closet, otherwise from what is she coming out? The world demands that queer people walk through an eternity of closet doors.

The great legal victories of the LGBTQ+ movement have all signified a deep desire to be equal, to integrate and just be treated as normal. It is a natural and just desire – I stood in the gallery of the Scottish Parliament as the same sex marriage law was passed, and when we clapped the politicians, and the politicians clapped us, I felt valued by my society. And yet, when David Cameron also declared, “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative, but because I am a conservative”, it was not a mere gimmick. Unquestioningly pursuing legal equality means accepting a model of society which still has the same flaws that victimised gay men. 

Gay women and men should beware becoming complicit with these flaws in exchange for tax breaks and tasteful bridal suites. Right-wingers such as Douglas Murray, importing tactics from Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, have weaponised LGBTQ+ rights to specifically single out Muslims as un-European. This rather conveniently forgets the existence of LGBTQ+ Muslims (not to mention the Muslim Mayor of London voting in favour of same-sex marriage, along with all eight Muslim representatives in the Bundestag last month, while the leader of the Christian Democrats Angela Merkel… didn’t).

The briefest flick through Grindr will show you gay men are sailing not just in a sea of washboard abs, but also racialised sexual preference and visceral anti-femininity. “Straight acting, no fems” is scrawled across headless torso after headless torso.

When some gay people crave to “act straight”, what they mean is “act normal”. But unlike legality, normality cannot be achieved by merely trying to become it, or two actual straight men would be able to walk down Luton's high street in-hand without hindrance. LGBTQ+ people must also demand that what is normal changes and becomes them. If we are to send the closet and the gleaming headless torsos the same way as the old laws, we must not be afraid to say, “Yes, I am an invert.”