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Rick Santorum: DADT Repeal Has Been 'Detrimental' For Gay Soldiers

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ORLANDO -- The most provocative moment from Thursday night's Republican presidential primary debate came when a few members of the crowd booed an openly gay soldier for asking whether he would have to hide his sexuality under a future, Republican administration.

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), to whom the question was addressed, responded that he would reinstate "don't ask, don't tell," the federal policy that prohibited LGBT individuals from serving openly in the military. And when pressed on the matter after the debate ended, the Pennsylvania Republican argued that repeal of the policy had been harmful for those gay soldiers as well.

"We executed a policy that I think was detrimental to everyone, including them, in my opinion because sex and sexual preference should not be an issue in the military, period," he said. "And it should not be something that is demonstrated in any shape or form in the military. And it shows how much our culture has changed that this is even a subject to be debated within the military."

Santorum didn't elaborate on how allowing open service was detrimental for gay soldiers. He did, however, say that he "would grandfather in people who, because of the [DADT repeal] policy, came out."

"It's not their fault," he said.

As for the boos from the crowd at the debate, Santorum said: "I didn't hear the boos so I can't make anything from something I didn't hear."

What's remarkable about Santorum's position on "don't ask, don't tell" -- which formally ended this past week -- is not necessarily his keenness to judge the post-DADT environment for formerly closeted soldiers. It's that, on this matter at least, he is increasingly the lone culture warrior in the GOP presidential field. Following the debate, no other candidate or campaign offered support for a reinstitution of the law.

"I would not seek it," Herman Cain told The Huffington Post. "But I think it is a distraction at this point. Wherever the military is, the day that I take office I'm not going to stir that pot because I think it is an unnecessary distraction. It is settled at this point. If the military comes to be and say that they want something different, then I would listen. ... If they had never repealed it I would have been fine with it. But I'm just saying, I'm not going to allow myself to get distracted on the issue that the military shouldn't even be getting distracted on."

On a personal level, Cain added: "I have no problem with [gays serving openly]. The first order of business should be to do their job. As long as they do their jobs I think people in the military will be fine with that. It is when it becomes a distraction and you have got to spend a lot of time creating special situations, this is what I disagree with."

Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, punted on the issue of future policy.

"I will simply restate what the governor's position was and has been from the very onset of this debate ... which is, it was a mistake to make a social change like that in our military at a time when we are engaged in foreign conflicts," he said, when asked if the Massachusetts Republican would support reinstitution.

Sam Brownback, an austere social conservative along the lines of Santorum, pledged he didn't know the exact position of the candidate he was there to support, Rick Perry.

"I haven't talked to Governor Perry about this so I can't respond," he said, taking questions upstairs from the debate hall.

Brownback did profess a personal liking for Santorum's take on "don't ask, don't tell."

"I thought Rick had a good answer on this," he said. "I thought this was the right position. ... I just think that is lamentable and I think it is harmful to the overall security and the security of Americans."

But that statement was offered as Brownback's personal opinion, not that of the Perry campaign.

The one other Republican presidential candidate who publicly campaigned on bringing back "don't ask, don't tell" -- former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- is no longer in the race, leaving only Santorum to fill a potentially politically rewarding niche.

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