The United States Senate voted today, in a test vote, to support legislation that would overturn the 17 year old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, or DADT, policy in the United States military that prohibited gays from openly discussing their sexual preference while serving, and prohibited them from even being asked about it.
The final vote is expected mid-afternoon, but it appears certain that the legislation will be advanced to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
Technically, gay men and women are not banned from serving in the military. The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, which introduced in the early months of the Bill Clinton administration, was actually a step forward for gay rights at the time. Prior to its adoption, homosexuals were banned from serving in the military completely.
Opponents of the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, led in part by Arizona R John McCain, have been vocal that allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military will hurt morale and potentially put servicemen and women at risk.
In reaction, McCain said of existing servicemen and women, “They will do what is asked of them. But don’t think there won’t be a great cost.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ironically referred to a former Arizona Republican by saying, “As Barry Goldwater said, ‘You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.”
For generations, the idea that homosexuals could serve in the military seemed farfetched, though in reality, it was not nearly as farfetched as the idea that no homosexuals were serving in the military at any given time. Gay men and women have served honorably, and dishonorably, since the very beginning of the military as an institution.
I never served in the military and I am not gay. So I suppose on some level people would think I should have little to say about this subject. But as an American, I do have the right to speak up about what the military should do.
The ban on gays in the military, or more accurately put, the ban against gays living openly while serving in the military, has made no sense at all to me through the years. Those against gays in the military say that homosexuals in the armed forces could hurt morale and put people’s lives at risk. Perhaps that is true in some cases. But wouldn’t prohibiting a group of people which would offer some excellent soldiers also ultimately hurt morale and put people’s lives at risk?
Is there a circumstance where a gay soldier could ‘hit on’ a straight solider at a bar or in the barracks and cause some bad feelings? Yes, that definitely could, and probably will, happen. Could that incident lead to a chain of events that would impair the ability in that instance of the unit in combat, and, at least in theory, cause the loss of life? I would have to think that’s tragically plausible.
There is also the very good chance that if the ban on gays stood, some excellent soldiers who happened to be gay would be excluded from serving, and would be replaced by lesser ones, who happened to be straight.
If for whatever reason gay people are less likely to be good soldiers than straight people are, then there will be fewer gays in the military than there are in the general population. And we should all be perfectly fine with that.
But as I look at my kids and think about the dangerous world we live in, I’m gratified to know that perhaps tomorrow one extra person, who would make an excellent soldier but just so happens to be in the estimated 10% of the overall population who is gay, will be inspired to join the military.
Given the nature of the volunteer army that we have, I have utmost respect for those who choose to serve, even when I do not completely agree with what our country is fighting for.
I believe that by and large our soldiers are selfless and hear a higher calling. I have to believe that those who are gay are, on average, that much more selfless on some level and hear the bells of a higher calling that much more clearly. They are volunteering, of course, into a world that has been many times hostile and less forgiving for them than for straight people. Any way we look at it, there is an extra hurdle and likely always will be for homosexuals and their decision to enlist.
Will there be complications? Of course. There are all sorts of complications in the military, and, in fairness, part of the military’s mission is to eliminate distractions and complications. I would hope, though, that the big picture is kept in perspective and that the first priority is to find good soldiers to defend the country they love.
If a gay soldier intentionally makes a straight soldier uncomfortable through his behavior, then the problem I would have with him is that he is a bad soldier who just so happens to be gay. If a straight soldier allows a good soldier’s sexual preference to become a distraction, then he is a bad soldier who just so happens to be straight.
When Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, more will be welcomed into the military. And that is a good thing for the military and the United States.