The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell gained a high profile —and boos—before a national television audience Thursday, September 22. That’s when an active duty soldier in Iraq identified himself as being gay and asked Republican presidential hopefuls whether they would, as president, try to reinstate the ban on openly gay servicemembers.
Fox News commentator Meg Kelly introduced a video from the soldier, identified only as Steven Hill, during the second hour of a two-hour debate among Republican candidates in Orlando. Hill, who submitted his question via YouTube, said that, prior to the repeal of the law banning openly gay people from the military—a repeal that took effect September 20—he “had to lie about who I was.” Without directing his question to any one candidate, he asked whether the candidates would try to “circumvent the progress” that has been made in allowing gays to serve.
A few voices in the debate audience in Orlando, which had been wildly vocal all evening, loudly booed. Then Kelly directed the question to former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, one of the field’s most hostile candidates to any form of equal treatment of gays.
Santorum reiterated a position he’s stated publicly before: that he would seek to reinstate the ban. In doing so, he couched his concern as being about sex. He said he doesn’t think there should be “any type of sexual activity” in the military and that repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell amounts to “giving them a special privilege.” And he said DADT repeal “tries to inject social policy into the military,” a remark that triggered wild applause from the debate audience in Orlando.
“What would you do?” asked Kelly.
Santorum said he would stop “playing social experiments with our military” and “reinstate the policy, period.”
Santorum said he would not throw out gays now serving in the military, saying it would be “unfair” to them because it would penalize them for a “policy of this administration.”
“But sex should not be an issue,” said Santorum. “Keep it to yourself, whether you’re heterosexual or homosexual.” Again, there was wild applause from the audience.
None of the other eight candidates on the stage were asked to respond to Hill’s question.
This was third debate in five among the announced Republican candidates to include a question on an LGBT-related issue. The next debate is October 11 in New Hampshire on the campus of Dartmouth College. That debate will be sponsored by Bloomberg Television and the Washington Post.