In many places, abuse is the norm. Gays across Africa "have been denied access to health care, detained, tortured and even killed," reports The Washington Post. The Gambian president promised to "cut off the head" of any homosexual. These nations, we are told, are just trying to uphold traditional morality.
It's one thing to say, as most Republicans do, that gays and lesbians should not be entitled to marry or enjoy protection against private discrimination. It's another to say they deserve to be harassed, imprisoned or executed for being gay.
But some conservatives say it's wrong for the U.S. government to protest such policies. They seem to think governments have a moral obligation to make homosexuality as miserable as possible.
This is a minority view. There was no groundswell of public anger in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down ruled laws against gay sodomy. Nor has the GOP pushed a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision.
Americans may disagree on gay marriage. But they really don't favor locking gays up -- or harshly mistreating them -- over private, consensual sex.
So what's the problem if the State Department encourages foreign governments to stop punishing gays? You might say, as Santorum does, that we should "give out humanitarian aid based on humanitarian need, not based on whether people are promoting their particular agenda." But has he ever objected to the U.S. habit of criticizing countries that persecute Christians?
You might also say that in a dangerous world, the U.S. can't afford to base its foreign policy on human rights considerations. That's true, but there is no evidence that Obama intends to sacrifice national interests in the pursuit of gay equality.
All he and Clinton are really doing is shining a spotlight on governments that treat homosexuals as criminals, subhumans or second-class citizens and urging them to stop. That stance puts them at odds with many governments over a matter of individual freedom.
You could fault Iran and Saudi Arabia and others for the disagreement. But some people would rather blame America first.