I have become used to hearing gay people and our lives either ignored or stigmatized or demonized in Republican debates. It is a function of a political party becoming a religion. And so my skin is pretty thick at this point, and my outrage button eroded by two decades of learning to ignore this stuff and focus on the positive arguments we have to make. It's not that I didn't react at the time:
10.18 pm. Santorum claims bizarrely that repealing DADT means permission for sexual activity for gays in the military. This is a lie. The same rules of sexual misconduct apply to gays and straights alike. And a gay servicemember is booed by this foul crowd. Santorum keeps saying "sex is not an issue." But that's the current policy! This has nothing to do with sex, as Santorum surely knows. And again, the crowd reveals itself as hateful – even when it comes to those serving their country in uniform. This is one core reason why I cannot be a Republican. So many are bigots – and no one – no one – stands up against them. They're a bunch of bullies congratulating themselves on rooting out the queers.
But as I went to bed last night, the scattered boos for an American soldier in the field at any debate began to sink in. And Santorum's despicable lie in response – that repealing DADT somehow means license of gay sexual misconduct in the armed services – was intended to reduce that soldier, his life and work, to Santorum's obsession: the intrinsic evil of gay sex. Again, this is usual. Gays are used to being reduced to sexual acts rather than being seen as full human beings, like straight people, with sexuality sure, but a whole lot of other things as well.
But somehow the fact that these indignities were heaped on a man risking his life to serve this country, a man ballsy enough to make that video, a man in the uniform of the United States … well, it tells me a couple of things. It tells me that these Republicans don't actually deep down care for the troops, if that means gay troops. Their constant posturing military patriotism has its limits.
The shocking silence on the stage – the fact that no one challenged this outrage – also tells me that this kind of slur is not regarded as a big deal. When it came to it, even Santorum couldn't sanction firing all those servicemembers who are now proudly out. But that's because he was forced to focus not on his own Thomist abstractions, but on an actual person. Throughout Republican debates, gays are discussed as if we are never in the audience, never actually part of the society, never fully part of families, never worthy of even a scintilla of respect. When you boo a servicemember solely because he's gay, you are saying he is beneath contempt, that nothing he does or has done can counterweigh the vileness of his sexual orientation.
And then I think of all those gay servicemembers who have died for this country, or been wounded in battle, or been on tours year after year … and the fury builds. Even GOProud, the two gay guys who love Ann Coulter, issued this statement:
“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. 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.
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?”
He can't. Apologize, Santorum.