Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum says he has gay friends.

Santorum, who is often mentioned as a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, made his remarks Friday in an interview with USA Today.

In responding to why the Republican response to President Obama's Wednesday decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bans gay marriage, had been so muted, Santorum answered that conservatives are afraid of being labeled homophobic.

“It is a reality that the media, not just the mainstream media but even quote-unquote conservative publications, like Fox – they tend to write rather negatively about people who stand up and fight for marriage. They describe it in terms of bigotry, in terms of discrimination, in terms of [being] homophobic,” Santorum said.

“As a result of that, people stay away from it. They don't want to be cast in that light by the media.”

“And besides, we all have friends who are gay. I have friends who are gay. But they respect the fact that they disagree with them on policy,” he added.

In 2003, Santorum created controversy when he likened gay unions to “man on dog.”