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Rick Santorum and more: How social issues intruded on 2012 campaign

In an election year that was supposed to be all about economic recovery, social values having to do with sex – birth control, abortion, and gay marriage – are playing prominent roles.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012, in Georgetown, Ohio.

Eric Gay/AP

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In an election year that was supposed to be all about getting the country out of its economic doldrums, social values – mainly having to do with sex – have intruded big time. Largely, but not exclusively, it’s the realm of Rick Santorum.

In some cases (birth control vs. religious beliefs), they’ve taken firm root in the presidential election. In others (abortion and same-sex marriage), they lurk about the periphery – likely to inject themselves more deeply as the nominating process sorts itself out.

President Obama’s policy move requiring schools, hospitals, and other religious institutions to provide birth control to employees – even though it was adjusted to make insurance companies and not the institutions themselves responsible – continues to gain political traction left and right.

To conservatives, it’s all about government intrusion into religious beliefs and practices. To liberals, it’s about personal choice and women’s rights in the most private of issues.

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A congressional hearing this past week illustrated the heated divide. On an issue of particular importance to women, the hearing on Obama’s birth control policy, led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, began with a panel of religious leaders – all of them men.

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