Rick Santorum Comments On Bruce Jenner's Gender Identity & Was Surprisingly Accepting

Rick Santorum — former senator Republican and possible 2016 presidential hopeful — isn’t known for his liberal views, so his modern comments during a recent interview seemed somewhat out of character. Santorum weighed in on Bruce Jenner’s transgender identity with a surprisingly enlightened approach Saturday. “If he says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman,” Santorum told Buzzfeed News during a roundtable Q&A at the South Carolina Republican Party Convention. He went on to opine that people should “love and accept” Jenner, regardless of his gender.

Such comments from Santorum — a man who fervently repudiates gay marriage, holds an arguably radical pro-life stance, and believes climate change is a liberal conspiracy — are nothing short of incredible. “My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are,” Santorum said Saturday. “I can criticize — and I do — for what people do, for their behavior. But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody.”

Jenner, former Olympian and member of the Kardashian clique by marriage, recently participated in an interview in which he told ABC News that he identifies as a woman. He also confirmed that he considered himself “more on the conservative side,” politically.

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Being a Republican and being a trans person are seemingly dual identities that could arguably leave one self-conflicted. For example, Republican leaders in Minnesota recently moved to pass a provision that would block transgender students from using school bathrooms, shower facilities, and changing rooms that were not those of the gender of which they were assigned at birth.

Asked whether Jenner should be able to use the women's bathroom, Santorum was more circumspect. “So these are tough issues,” he said. “I haven’t got into the whole issue, and I don’t think the federal government should get into the whole issue of bathrooms.” He went on to say that businesses, local agencies, and organizations should deal with this question.

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Jezebel highlights that Santorum's comments reflect what seems to be a general trend among Republican presidential candidates of a softening on social issues. Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently said that he would love his daughters “just as much” if they were gay, the publication points out, while Florida Senator Marco Rubio said he would attend a gay wedding.

But let’s not get too excited. Neither of those GOP contenders actually supports gay marriage — and Santorum wasn’t at all eager to let Jenner into the women's bathroom. As Stassa Edwards writes for Jezebel, “Leaving civil rights up to local government and ‘the business community’ is just a friendly reworking of familiar GOP policies.”

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At least, with the issue of same-sex marriage currently before the Supreme Court, the GOP’s leading lights seem finally to have realized that Santorum's — and others' — previously unabashed homophobic banter is not appropriate. (Santorum once compared gay sex to child rape and bestiality, according to The Guardian.) Now, if only these candidates could put policy where their rhetoric is, we’d finally be getting somewhere.

Editor’s Note: Per Jenner’s stated preference, Bustle will continue referring to Jenner using he/his pronouns for the time being. We will follow his lead and make any changes to this policy as needed in the future.

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