The Public Policy

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Repeal

Gays already can serve in the U.S. military, but what about the rights of religious believers and cultural traditionalists?

By 2.2.10

The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing today about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, are expected to testify about how the U.S. military will, over time, implement President Obama's pledge to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Of course, gays in the military is not an issue that anyone, save for the gay lobby, really wants to discuss. It creates unease, discomfort and confusion -- and so we ignore it and hope that it will go away. But it won't -- and nor should it necessarily.

We live, after all, in a free and democratic country in which people have a right to express themselves and to make their views known. And certainly, the gay lobby has been making well known what it thinks of gays in the military -- namely, that they're already there and should be allowed to serve openly and without any moral or cultural stigma.

It shouldn't surprise anyone to hear that the gay lobby already has won this battle in large part. The U.S. military, after all, is a reflection of the larger-scale American society; and American social attitudes toward lesbians and homosexuals have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years.

Indeed, Americans -- including U.S. military servicemen and women -- are far more tolerant, and even accepting, of lesbians and homosexuals than they were 20 or 30 years ago.

This is attributable in no small measure to a concerted propaganda campaign waged by Hollywood, television, and the media to depict lesbians and homosexuals in the most favorable light possible. Consequently, it is all but impossible to find a gay character, on TV or in a movie, who is bad or despicable -- or who suffers from vices and compulsions that might be more common within the gay community.

More typical, in fact, are lesbians and homosexuals who are depicted as plaster saints or moral superiors. Think of Tom Hanks' saintly character, Andrew Beckett, in the 1993 movie Philadelphia. Or recall Doug Savant's martyr character, Matt Fielding, in the 1990s' television hit Melrose Place.

There has been a "steady increase in gay [television] characters," James Barrios told the Huffington Post last September. Barrios is president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Story lines... are becoming "more reflective of current issues affecting our lives," [he] said in a statement.

Fair, accurate images of gay couples marrying, raising families, and contributing to their communities help fellow Americans "come to accept and better understand" their gay family members and neighbors, he said.

Examples cited by GLAAD include a gay couple marrying on ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" and a gay police officer on NBC's "Southland" -- a rare character for a crime drama.

So while most military service men and women -- 58% according to a December 2008 Military Times poll -- still oppose open homosexuality in the ranks, an equally strong majority are quite tolerant and accepting of lesbians and homosexuals.

Why, then, shouldn't gays serve openly and freely? Is it not rank prejudice and discrimination to disallow this? Isn't "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" outdated and unnecessary social policy? Has it not been superseded by a new set of social norms and mores?

Not quite. The confusion stems from the gay lobby's own religious and cultural bigotry -- and its failure to distinguish between tolerance and affirmation.

The vast majority of Americans -- including the vast majority of U.S. servicemen and women -- are extremely tolerant. However, many Americans -- including a great many who serve in our armed forces -- are also quite religious. Others who are not religious are nonetheless cultural traditionalists.

These people stubbornly "cling to [their] guns and [their] religion," as candidate Barack Obama condescendingly, patronizingly and wrongly put it. They believe in and observe the Biblical -- and cultural -- injunctions against homosexuality. And the question is whether these good, decent and tolerant Americans will be forced to acknowledge and affirm the homosexuality of a very small number of servicemen and women.

I say acknowledge and affirm because, as a practical matter, that is what will be required if and when open homosexuality is ever permitted within the U.S. military. Commentary magazine's J.E. Dyer, who is herself a 20-year military veteran, has written eloquently and persuasively about this issue.

Dyer notes that the litigious nature of American society, coupled with the explicit goals and objectives of the gay lobby -- namely, public acceptance and legitimacy, and not just tolerance, of homosexuality -- will force the U.S. military to accommodate gay behavior and to endorse a gay sexual orientation in military operations and culture:

The course of hands-off neutrality is not an option in these realms; their unique character is to require affirmative policy. Civilians should start by understanding this. The quiescent tolerance they think of in relation to their own lives must translate, in the military, into endorsement and administration of an explicit position.

Racial equality, for instance, is not an option in the U.S. military; it is a requirement -- and everyone up and down the chain of command knows this. Indeed, committing an act of racial discrimination -- or even refusing to pay homage to the idea of racial equality -- almost certainly will end an officer's career, and rightly so.

But what about equality of "sexual preference," or equality of "sexual orientation"? Would that also be required under a regime of open homosexuality? And if so, what about a serviceman's First Amendment right to freedom of religion? As Dyer explains:

One basic issue must come to a head: whether eligibility for promotion or command will be contingent on explicit support for homosexuality. The issue will be forced by lawsuit if by no other means.

A 20-year veteran with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be comfortable, for example, endorsing "Gay Pride Month" or participating in scheduled military celebrations of it.

He may be charged by a gay subordinate with creating a hostile work environment or ordered by a senior officer to get onboard with gay-pride celebrations. Perhaps his chain of command would back him up and force the issue to a higher level. The serious question remains: what does this have to do with warfighting readiness?

Absolutely nothing of course. Moreover, the entire issue is unnecessary because it purports to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. Gays, after all, can and do serve now in the U.S. military, but without drawing attention to their private sexual lives. Being gay, remember, is not the same as being black, Asian or female. Again, as Dyer observes:

People only have to know you're gay -- [they] only have to be "polled" for their opinion -- if you choose to make it clear. Repealing DADT ["Don't Ask, Don't Tell"] isn't about gays serving; it's about gays "telling," regardless of what others want to know. The respectful silence the others can maintain in civilian life, the tolerance by avoidance that lubricates social amity -- these are precisely the options the military, with its top-down governance and institutional unity, withholds from its members…

I predict the following, based on the trends of gay advocacy elsewhere in the federal government, in state governments, and in private workplaces: Ending the DADT policy will result in U.S. military personnel being required to positively affirm same-sex sexual orientation, in both on and off-duty situations, at peril of their promotability and eligibility for desirable assignment, including command.

The suite of issues here -- litigation, work environment, religious tolerance, criteria for promotion -- is inherent with open homosexuality in the military. Our history of civil rights law makes it so -- [and] it is utterly disingenuous to insist otherwise.

Unfortunately, Dyer is one of very few people who have seriously thought through the implications of open homosexuality in the U.S. military and what it means for the rights of religious believers and cultural traditionalists.

The military itself certainly doesn't want to discuss the issue and thus studiously avoids answering questions about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Ditto conservative politicians and activists; they fear being branded as bigots who are on the wrong side of history.

Thus the big rally cry on the Right is that "now is not the time" to debate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The issue is a "huge distraction" from "more pressing matters" like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the larger-scale Global War on Terror.

"In the middle of two wars, and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?" asks House GOP leader John Boehner.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg, Amy Holmes and Jim Geraghty all agree. Goldberg, in fact, thinks that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" debate is an Obama administration plot to bait the rabid Right into making intemperate remarks, which Obama can then use to excite his liberal base.

According to this line of thinking, Obama and Pelosi won't ever really follow through on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Gays in the military is simply "a deliberate [and useful] wedge issue… So, as a matter of strategy," asks Goldberg, "why have that debate if Obama and Pelosi aren't actually going to do anything about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' for the foreseeable future?"

Boehner, Goldberg, Holmes, and Geraghty are seriously mistaken. What Obama and Pelosi envision is a steadily unwinding plan that slowly but inexorably introduces open homosexuality into the U.S. military -- and Gates and Mullen are their willing accomplices.

Indeed, as Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell has told reporters, Gates and Mullen "have been [working on], and continue to work on, an implementation plan for ultimately achieving the president's goal of repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

Some conservatives don't want to forcefully engage the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" debate because they lack sufficient appreciation or concern for the rights of religious believers and cultural traditionalists.

They also fear, I think, that they are, in fact, on the wrong side of history; and that it is only a matter of time before the forces of "progress" win out. So, as Goldberg admits, "Why bother? Why have that debate?"

Because it's the right thing to do. Because the debate is ongoing and has been for some time, but only one side has been fighting. Because the First Amendment right to freedom of religion is always worth fighting for and fighting about; indeed, it is fundamental to who we are as Americans. And because the American military culture is special and unique and ought to be protected and not forced to accommodate a sensibility and behavior that many Americans find morally objectionable.

In short, religious believers and cultural traditionalists didn't ask for this fight; it was forced upon them by an assertive and aggressive lobby which seeks to destroy the rights and freedoms of those who disagree with it.

Tolerance certainly is at issue here -- the U.S. military's continued tolerance of religious believers and cultural traditionalists. May they both -- the U.S. military and its culture of tolerance -- live long and prosper.

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About the Author
  John R. Guardiano blogs at, and you can follow him on Twitter: @ResCon1.