Rick Santorum, one of the runners in the 2012 presidential race, attempted to clear the air over his record on gay rights this weekend with an appearance on the Fox News.

On the subject of homosexuality, Santorum claimed gays demanded respect “for feeling very differently – about trying to take that orientation, and then to try to project that onto the American public.”

The former Republican senator had been prompted by Fox News anchor Megan Kelly.

He said: “We can have a public policy difference about what the proper marriage laws should be in this country and what’s in the best interests of society and not hate somebody. As I’ve said many times, I have friends who are gay.

“I accept them as they are but I disagree with them vehemently about what is in the best interests of society with regard to our marriage laws, what we’re going to teach our children in schools, what the impact of those marriage laws will be on faith communities, and their ability to be able to proclaim the truth as God has laid it out in the Bible.”

He described these as “ramifications of a public policy debate” that did not require him to dislike or hate gays.

Santorum continued: “I respect that decision [to be gay]. But you also have to respect me for feeling very differently.”

He concluded: “It’s not personal, it’s about policy.”

A week earlier, in a presidential debate, Santorum accused Iran of “trampling the rights of gays”.