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He faced the issue head-on and attempted to persuade and to have a rational conversation about the moral issues at stake in the gay marriage debate. I think he showed far more respect to the students than they showed him.

Rick Santorum didn't need Dorothy to help him realize he wasn't in Iowa anymore.

However, how he reacted showed he doesn't fear the yellow brick road.

No longer in a state where social conservatives determine the playing field, NBC News captured the boos the presidential hopeful received at a convention of college students in Concord, N.H., after a back-and-forth with the audience about same-sex marriage.

When asked how the state of New Hampshire legalizing same-sex marriage was affecting him personally, Santorum took the next 10 minutes to engage the audience in a debate on the topic.

"If we're going to have a discussion on this, I would just say this, who's attempting to change the law?" Santorum asked. "The law for 230 years in this country was marriage is between a man and a woman… You have to make the positive argument on why the law should be changed."

True to his word, Santorum allowed audience members to state their case, but the ire of the crowd was brought on when the candidate argued the acceptance of same-sex marriage could lead to the acceptance of polygamy, since the definition of marriage would be skewed.

"So if everybody has the right to be happy, if you're not happy unless you're married to five other people, is that OK?" Santorum asked.

The former Pennsylvania senator's stance on the issue of same-sex marriage has been a rough spot for the candidate and many potential voters, some of whom have portrayed him as homophobic and leading to Santorum's "Google" problem created by sex columnist Dan Savage. (Savage created a website attacking Santorum, and the site ranks high in any Google search of Santorum.) Many have also criticized his comparison of same-sex marriage to bestiality in a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, including Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"There's a difference between being against marriage equality and then equating same-sex marriage to bestiality," McCain told MSNBC. "I mean it's so dated and it's so gross."

However not all are critical of Santorum's stance, nor the way he handled himself in New Hampshire. Well-known political and theological blogger Denny Burke was impressed with Santorum's attempt at a rational debate with so much on the line for the candidate.

"Faced with this situation, most politicians would dissemble or avoid the topic. Santorum did not do that," Burke said "He faced the issue head-on and attempted to persuade and to have a rational conversation about the moral issues at stake in the gay marriage debate. I think he showed far more respect to the students than they showed him."

Santorum did give credit to the state of New Hampshire for passing same-sex marriage the "right way," allowing the people to decide.

"Go out and make that case in the public square," Santorum said. "I disagree with what New Hampshire did, but at least I would give the fact they did it the right way — they passed it through the Legislature. They didn't have the court impose it like they have in other states."

Some feel the manner Santorum took on the subject shows a contrast to fellow candidate Mitt Romney, who wouldn't engage in a discussion with a veteran at a restaurant about the subject while out campaigning as captured by ABC News.

Burke admired Santorum's fortitude.

"Santorum's candidacy is on the line in New Hampshire," Burke said. "That he did not pander nor shrink back from controversy just days before he is asking these people to vote for him is courageous. There are not many politicians who would do what Santorum did here."

EMAIL: jbolding@desnews.com