An audience at the Republican presidential debate in Orlando did not greet a gay soldier with open arms Thursday. In fact, they booed him.
The jeering came after Stephen Hill, a soldier stationed in Iraq, asked via video about the recent repeal of the 1993 law that banned gay military personnel from serving openly in the military.
Hill, in a gray "Army" T-shirt, told the candidates at the Fox News-Google debate that he had to "lie about who I was because I'm a gay soldier. I didn't want to lose my job."
"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?" he asked.
After his video ended, loud boos were immediately heard from a number of people in the audience. The heckling elicited no reaction from the presidential hopefuls. Democrats and gay activists criticized the candidates after the debate for not condemning the jeers.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum answered the question by saying the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" provision should be reinstated.
"Any type of sexual activity has no place in the military," he said, adding the overturn of DADT, which went into affect this week, was "playing social experimentation with our country."
The social conservative said while he wouldn't throw openly gay soldiers out now, the military should "move forward in conformity with what was happening in the past, which is, that sex is not an issue."
"Leave it alone, keep it to yourself, whether you are a heterosexual or a homosexual," Santorum said.
The crowd erupted into applause, almost drowning out the candidate's answer.
Several of the Republican presidential candidates have previously said they too would reinstate DADT.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said he would keep the policy in place "until conflict was over," during a Republican primary debate in June. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has said she too would keep DADT in place.
GOProud, a group representing gay conservatives, blasted Santorum after the debate, and insisted he owes Hill an apology.
"Tonight, Rick Santorum disrespected our brave men and women in uniform ... That brave gay soldier is doing something Rick Santorum has never done - put his life on the line to defend our freedoms and our way of life. 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."
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