Such was Rick Santorum’s response when Stephen Hill, an openly gay soldier asked him about his stance on DADT. Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator and the golden boy of social conservatives, delivered this gem during one of the recent Republican presidential debates, and if you haven’t been watching them for the politics, you should at least be watching them for the sick, self-indulgent pleasure that comes with being Offended. According to the presidential hopeful, allowing gay and lesbian soldires to serve openly in the military is “tragic”.
The real tragedy was the entire situation at the debate, from the question’s reception to the ominous answer. When Hill asked the prospective candidates about their stopping “the progress made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military,” the audience answered for them with a chorus of booing. Not one of the candidates defended the war hero, and all refused even to acknowledge him. Instead, Santorum’s rethoric demonstrated the reality of queer people’s status as second class citizens. Separate but equal is what I heard when the potential next president said that DADT applies both to homosexuals and heterosexuals, to any sexual activity within the military, just “keep it to yourself”. Santorum’s ideal military would include, apparently, a higher frequency of masturbation. The scariest part is that the audience erupted in support. People actually believe that these policies do not discriminate. Even worse, through oratorial acrobatics politicians make injustice seem just; suddenly gay and straight people have been treated equally all along, in fact, DADT conferred that right. According to Santorum, the repeal of this policy now confers a specific group special treatment.
Though the victorious repeal of the infamous policy merits celebration, it does not fail to highlight the limbo in which queer people hover in their struggle for civil rights. What would happen to openly gay and lesbian soldiers should DADT be reinstituted? Would a Republican administration simply throw them out of the military? Santorum says he would not, but can those soldiers ever go back in the closet? This scenario sounds not unlike the tens of thousands of California same-sex marriages that were not invalidated but are not really legal anymore. Unless we realize the position we are in we cannot expect to make our officials understand that they are playing with people’s lives.