John Guardiano, in column on the main site and a subsequent blog post, laments the lack of a genuine debate over the prospect of allowing gays to openly serve in the military. Part of the difficulty of debating the issue is that that for those opposed to allowing homosexuals to serve openly, it’s self-evident why this would cause problems for the military, while for those who support open service (as I do), it’s a no-brainer that sexual orientation shouldn’t make a difference.
I think a lot of this comes down to a person’s general perception of homosexuality. John rightly points out that Americans have become more tolerant of homosexuality over the years, and suggests:
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.
I disagree with this characterization, because I don’t need to rely on Hollywood propaganda. I happen to be a heterosexual living in a neighborhood with a large gay population, and don’t feel at all threatened by it. I see gay couples when I buy groceries, eat at nearby restaurants, or enter the elevator to my apartment building. I don’t view them as heroes — I just don’t see it as a big deal one way or the other. So, quite honestly, I have to strain to try and understand why people are so concerned about gays serving in the military.
John makes another argument — that allowing gays to serve openly would require soldiers to affirm homosexuality, which would then be a violation of their religious freedom. Part of the reason I disagree with this assessment is that I have a very narrow reading of the First Amendment. I think the founders were mainly concerned with preventing the establishment of a national religion, like say the Church of America, that all citizens would be forced to belong to. This is why, for instance, I support the right of local schools to allow voluntary prayer. But the other problem with the argument is that it accepts as absolute fact J.E. Dyer’s dire predictions about what would happen if gays were allowed to openly serve. Dyer foresees a military in which soldiers will be forced to express approval for “Gay Pride” celebrations and denied promotions if they don’t openly affirm homosexuality. But those are hypothetical scenarios and thus only serve to reinforce the views of those already opposed to lifting the ban, rather than convince those of us who don’t have a problem with allowing open service.
Meanwhile, Bill Kristol, like others supporting the continuation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” argues that allowing gays to serve openly would hurt “unit morale and cohesion” — but he takes it for granted that everybody will understand what he means, and doesn’t bother explaining to the rest of us specifically why he thinks it would harm morale.
To me, it’s hard to see what the fuss is about. This isn’t about lowering the standards of the military, because everybody would still have to meet all of the physical and other requirements necessary for military service. And it isn’t as if the military will, for the first time, be admitting gays. Homosexuals are already serving in the military. Straight soldiers already have to assume that anybody in their unit could be gay, and likely already have an idea of who is and isn’t. So the only change we’re talking about is whether we should continue to force soldiers who are serving our nation honorably to live a lie and face ejection from the military simply on the basis of whether they’re attracted to boys or girls, or to allow them to be open about their orientation. Like I said, it seems like a no-brainer to me.
UPDATE: Dyer responds in comments (you have to scroll down). I encourage you to read her entire response, but the gist of her argument is that within the civilian context, we’ve already seen an effort to force affirmation of homosexuality, so we should expect the same sort of thing would occur in the military. Yet just because gays want to be able to openly serve in the military, it doesn’t mean that they’ll want to make a public show of it and start holding gay pride marches on military bases. I surely wouldn’t support the scenario Dyer suggests in which “eligibility for promotion or command will be contingent on explicit support for homosexuality,” but I just don’t think there’s a high likelihood of that happening. However, if something like that did happen, any soldiers who were discriminated against because of a refusal to endorse homosexuality would be in a position to challenge the policy. Dyer notes the case of San Deigo firefighters were forced to participate in a gay pride parade. But those firefighters happened to have sued and won.