The Spectacle Blog

The Problem with Debating DADT and ‘Gay Rights’

By on 12.22.10 | 4:48PM

Years ago, the late great Irving Kristol told me and a group of young college students that his wife, the renowned historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, didn’t let him write about “gay rights” and homosexuality.

After wading into the all-too-emotional debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I can understand why: Because this is a difficult and complex issue that is all too easily caricatured and distorted, and by the extremes on both sides of the debate. This debate, though, can no longer be sidestepped or avoided.
 
My position is really a reasonable and moderate position. It acknowledges and accepts that there are gay men and women who want to serve in the military. However, it also recognizes that homosexuality is a problematical behavioral characteristic that shapes and affects human behavior, and often in profound and unsettling ways.
 
Yet we can see in Aaron Goldstein’s engagement on this issue -- for which I again thank him -- that, for many people, that simply isn’t enough. They demand a positive societal affirmation of homosexuality. Anything less, they cry, smacks of bigotry and “intolerance.”
 
The problem with this position, as I’ve tried to explain, is that homosexuality is not a simple, innocent or benign characteristic. In fact, truth be told, homosexuality is often a very unhealthy and destructive behavioral trait. And it is something that, for some people at least, can be altered or changed.
 
Are some people born lesbians and homosexuals? Undoubtedly, or so it would seem. But is everyone born genetically gay? Absolutely not. Psychology and societal pressures, it seems, have something to do with whether some people at least exhibit homosexual behavior.
 
Thus, the question is: how do we as a society show tolerance and acceptance for gay men and women without legitimizing a behavioral characteristic that we know is far from ideal? How do we include lesbians and homosexuals in our societal family without putting homosexuality on a par, legally and socially, with heterosexuality?
 
And how do we do this without infringing upon the religious liberty of millions of Americans? Because, as I’ve indicated here at the American Spectator, every major religious tradition in the world -- Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, et al. -- has moral proscriptions against homosexual behavior.
 
So that’s really what the debate over “gay rights,” “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and “gay marriage” is all about: trying to be tolerant and inclusive without legitimizing a behavioral characteristic that we all know is problematical and morally objectionable.
 
To thread this needle, moderates and conservatives have tried to come up with reasonable compromise measures such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “civil unions.”
 
But alas, I am afraid that this is not enough for the “gay rights” activists, who demand nothing less than the full societal legitimization of homosexuality. Socially and legally, they insist, homosexuality must be no different from heterosexuality.
 
Conservatives such as myself cannot accept this because we know that this is not true; and that such a formulation will prove disastrous for millions of people, families and children.
 
I won’t belabor my disagreement with Goldstein, except to briefly clarify the following points, which Goldstein has, in my view, seriously distorted:
 
First, I mentioned coed public high schools simply to reference the sexual and group dynamics between men and women which a coed military now has to deal with.
 
Students’ attitudes toward homosexuality are neither here nor there. Goldstein keeps trying to bring the issue back to how people “feel” about homosexuality; but “feelings” are, as I’ve explained repeatedly, completely irrelevant.
 
The point is that just as sexual dynamics create problems for public coed high schools, so, too, do they create problems for the U.S. military. And the introduction of open homosexuality within the ranks will only exacerbate this problem.
 
Second, I obviously am interested in “hard empirical evidence.” But again, because people’s “feelings” about homosexuality are irrelevant in the debate over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (and “gay rights” more generally), I am not interested in the sort of hard empirical evidence that Goldstein seems to think is decisive and conclusive.
 
The sort of evidence that I think is relevant involves how homosexuality affects human behavior and group dynamics, especially within small-scale military units. Goldstein ignores this evidence because it is inconvenient and unhelpful to his cause.
 
Third, I never said that because DADT has been repealed, “the sky is going to fall.” I agree, in fact, that the change will occur rather swiftly and without many problems or incidents -- or at least without many problems or incidents that are ever known or seen by the public.
 
The cost, though, will be very real. It will manifest itself through the softening and undermining of the military’s warrior culture, which has made the Marines and the combat arms attractive to young men.
 
It will mean the denial of religious liberty for our military chaplains and military personnel. It will result in homosexual hazing and harassment incidents. And it will mean offending the moral and aesthetic sensibilities of military families where they live and raise children.
 
Fourth, Goldstein tries, again, to equate religiously-informed objections to homosexuality with racist attitudes and behavior. This because some racists segregationists apparently tried to justify segregation on Biblical grounds.
 
But there is an obvious difference between trying to pervert the Bible to justify racism -- a position that no serious Biblical scholar supports -- and citing Biblical injunctions against homosexuality.
 
Biblical support for racism is specious, unreal and unserious. Biblical and natural law injunctions against homosexuality, by contrast, are long-standing, well established and well accepted by religious scholars and historians.
 
Fifth (and finally), Goldstein issues a tautology when he says that if I genuinely believe some gays and lesbians are fine soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, then I should have no objections to permitting them to serve openly in our armed forces.
 
Again, this seems self-evident to Goldstein, but it’s not. And the reason is twofold:
 
First, he discounts and ignores completely how sexual dynamics can wreak havoc within small-scale military units. Indeed, Goldstein seems to think that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are robotic, Vulcan-like creatures who are devoid of emotion and sexual passion.
 
Second, Goldstein discounts and ignores completely the importance of unit cohesion. Individual soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, after all, don’t fight and win on the battlefield; teams and units do. And it is the performance of those teams and units that matter, not the performance of individuals.
 
An individual lesbian and homosexual might be a perfectly fine soldier, sailor, airman and Marine; and yet through his or her sexual dalliances within the unit, undermine the unit’s morale and performance.
 
And, with that, I hope to end this particular debate. My hope is that we’ve managed to shed more light than heat on an issue, “gay rights” and homosexuality, that isn’t going away anytime soon. I wish Aaron and all of our readers a very Merry Christmas. Hoo-rah!
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