Rick Santorum fights backlash on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ comment in GOP debate

"Tonight, Rick Santorum disrespected our brave men and women in uniform, and he owes Stephen Hill, the gay soldier who asked him the question about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, an immediate apology," GOProud Board Chairman Christopher Barron and Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia said in a joint statement. "It is telling that Rick Santorum is so blinded by his anti-gay bigotry that he couldn’t even bring himself to thank that gay soldier for his service."

ADVERTISEMENT
The booing occurred during the Fox News-Google debate in Orlando, Fla., when the soldier, Stephen Hill, asked a question via video about how the candidates would treat the recently repealed "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

“In 2010, when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was, because I’m a gay soldier, and I didn’t want to lose my job,” Hall said. “My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?”

The Orlando crowd then began booing.

Santorum, an outspoken opponent of ending the ban, said if he is elected president, he would re-institute "Don't ask, don't tell."

The crowd applauded as Santorum made his way through an answer during which he called the repeal "tragic" and labeled it "social experimentation."

“We need to give the military ... the ability to do so in a way that is most efficient at protecting our men and women in uniform," Santorum said. "And I believe this undermines that ability.”

Barron and LaSalvia wondered in their statement how Santorum could claim to support the military if he doesn't support the troops serving in it.

"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?"

On Fox News Friday Santorum doubled down on his debate response. He said not reinstating "Don't ask, don't tell" would cause potential recruits to not join the military.

"I think a lot of folks are not going to join who otherwise would have joined and that is going to hurt our readiness, that’s going to hurt our ability to defend this country, and we shouldn’t be playing with social experimentations," Santorum said.

The controversial policy ended this week. Pentagon officials said the military expects no major incidents or operational hurdles, although they said some isolated incidents are likely.

“It doesn’t come up” when he and other senior Air Force officials travel to bases around the globe and talk to airmen, U.S. Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Raymond Johns told reporters on Tuesday.

Johns said he expects “we will discover some things” about a post-DADT military, but no major “disruptions.”

Hall has decided to remain mum on the incident, SLDN said in their statement.


-—This story was originally posted at 10:46 a.m. and updated at 1:54 p.m.