Rick Santorum’s Army of Celibates

Since Rick Santorum’s unexpected success, his extreme social conservatism has gotten a lot of attention. In some cases, it goes beyond what even most conservative Republicans would be willing to support. My personal favorite extreme Santorum quote hasn’t yet gotten as much play as some of the others.

In a September GOP debate, Santorum responded to a question about his position on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by saying that “any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.” Perhaps Santorum merely meant that military personnel should not be having sex while on duty. But if that’s the case, no one disagrees with him, including supporters of the repeal of DADT. Getting rid of DADT doesn’t change regulations forbidding sexual behavior that interferes with the performance of duty. The more natural reading of Santorum’s quote is that military personnel should be forbidden to engage in “sexual activity” of any kind for as long as they are in the armed forces. If that’s the case, only celibates could serve in the military.

It’s possible that Santorum simply misspoke. But when the moderator asked him to explain his position further, he actually dug the hole deeper:

When moderator Megyn Kelly pressed him on what he would do as President, he fired back, “We are playing social experimentation with our military right now and that’s tragic…going forward we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president, period.”

Santorum acknowledged that he couldn’t do much about those men and women currently serving in the military that have admitted to being gay, but concluded by saying, “Sex is not an issue, it should not be an issue, leave it alone and keep it to yourself whether you’re a homosexual or a heterosexual.”

In Santorum’s army, not only would gays be required to keep their sexual orientation secret, but so would heterosexuals. An equal-opportunity closet for all! The problem, of course, is that it’s very difficult to keep your orientation completely secret from long-term coworkers. People naturally mention their spouses, significant others, and so on, in casual conversation. If you wear a wedding ring or have a photo of your spouse on your desk, that might also be an indication of your sexual orientation. As a practical matter, you would probably have to be either celibate or extremely secretive to be safe from punishment under Santorum’s rule.

I can understand, though I don’t agree with, people who claim that DADT must be restored in order to promote unit cohesion. But Santorum’s prudery goes way beyond that.

I suspect that Santorum may not have grasped the implications of what he was saying. If he thought about it more carefully, he might well realize that forbidding all “sexual activity” by military personnel is likely to destroy the armed forces by making it nearly impossible to attract the number of capable volunteers we need to staff the military. Unless he intends to cut the military far more than even Ron Paul, that’s probably not what Santorum really wants. If Santorum wins the presidency, I doubt that he will actually try to implement this policy, if only because it would be a public relations disaster. Even so, it was a foolish and revealing statement.