(CNN)The nation's largest advocacy organization for LGBT rights accused Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee of "campaigning on hate" by defending the military's ban on transgender people.
LGBT rights group: Huckabee campaigning on hate with transgender answer
Huckabee said at the first Republican debate Thursday that the military did not need to adopt society's changing cultural norms related to transgender issues and "is not a social experiment."
"The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things," the former Arkansas governor said during the Fox News debate. "It's not to transform the culture by trying out some ideas that some people think would make us a different country and more diverse. The purpose is to protect America. I'm not sure how paying for transgender surgery for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines makes our country safer."
JoDee Winterhof, a senior vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT rights advocacy organization, slammed the remarks in the hours following the prime-time debate.
"By defending the ban on transgender military service in offensive terms, Mike Huckabee proved once again that he's campaigning on hate," Winterhof said.
"Countless LGBT families across Ohio and the nation want to know that our next president will defend their Constitutional rights and fight for full federal equality," Winterhof continued. "But sadly, tonight's debate left far more questions than answers, and the answers we did get were deeply disappointing."
CNN reached out to the Huckabee campaign for further comment but did not immediately hear back.
Following the White House's call for the ban to be lifted, the Pentagon announced last month that the ban on transgender people openly serving in the U.S. Military could be lifted in the next few months. CNN reported that Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to study "readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly."
"Moreover, we have transgender soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines - real, patriotic Americans - who I know are being hurt by an outdated, confusing, inconsistent approach that's contrary to our value of service and individual merit," Carter wrote in a statement.