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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The leader of one of Utah's largest polygamist sects has objected to Sen. Rick Santorum's comment lumping plural marriage with other practices the Pennsylvania Republican considers to be antifamily.
Santorum has been under fire for comparing homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery.
Owen Allred, 89, head of the United Apostolic Brethen, based in the Salt Lake City suburb of Bluffdale, agreed with Santorum in part.
"He is absolutely right. The people of the United States are doing whatever they can to do away with the sacred rights of marriage," Allred told The Salt Lake Tribune.
But Allred said Santorum's inclusion of polygamy in his list tarnishes a religious tradition whose roots are traced to biblical figures such as Abraham, Jacob and Moses -- defiling them as "immoral and dirty."
In an interview with The Associated Press published over the weekend, Santorum criticized homosexuality while discussing a pending Supreme Court case over a Texas sodomy law.
"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything," Santorum said.
"Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family," he said.
Polygamy was abandoned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints more than a century ago and it excommunicates members who advocate it, but it is estimated that tens of thousands in Utah continue the practice. Membership estimates for Allred's church range from 4,000 to 6,000, and there also are a number of independent polygamists loosely affiliated with Allred's group.
Santorum is chairman of the GOP conference in the Senate, third in his party's leadership, behind Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Gay rights groups and some Democrats have suggested he be removed from the conference post.
Speaking at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Santorum defended his comments and said they were similar to what Justice Byron White wrote in the 1986 Supreme Court ruling that consenting adults have no constitutional right to private homosexual sex.
"To suggest that my comments, which are the law of the land and were the reason the Supreme Court decided the case in 1986, are somehow intolerant, I would just argue that it is not," Santorum said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)