The audience at Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate in Orlando, Florida commemorated this week’s repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by booing Stephen Hill, a gay soldier, as he asked Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) about open service in the military. Without condemning the audience reaction, Santorum responded to Hill’s question by proclaiming that “any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military” and promising to reinstate the 1993 policy. He also characterized open service as a “special privilege”:
SANTORUM: The fact that they’re making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we’re going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege and removing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I think tries to inject social policy into the military and the military’s job is to do one thing — and that is to defend our country. We need to give the military, which is all volunteer, the ability to do so…and I believe this undermines that ability.
KELLY: So what would you do with soliders like Steven Hill. Now he’s out…so what would you do as president?
SANTORUM: Look, what we’re doing is playing social experimentation with our military right now and that’s tragic. I would just say that going forward, we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president. Period. That policy would be reinstituted and as far as people in, I would not throw them out because that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration, but we would move forward in conformity to what was happening in the past, which is — sex is not an issue. It should not be an issue. Leave it alone. Keep it to yourself — whether your’re heterosexual or homosexual.
GOProud says Santorum owes gay soldiers an apology: “Stephen Hill is serving our country in Iraq, fighting a war Senator Santorum says he supports. How can Senator Santorum claim to support this war if he doesn’t support the brave men and women who are fighting it?”
Former Utah Governor Jon Hutsman tells TPM that the boos were “unfortunate” and that with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repealed, “we all salute the same flag.”