Military Needs to Ask and Tell

For the past 16 years, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” has been the standard military policy on homosexuality. It prevents openly gay or lesbian servicemen from serving in the military. This is a highly controversial issue, one that resonates particularly strongly with Californians, who despite narrowly passing Proposition 8 have long been on the forefront of gay rights in this country.

President Obama, at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner held recently in Washington D.C., pledged to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.” However, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson, Kevin Nix of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents gay and lesbian members of the military, said that Obama had “missed an opportunity” to provide a date for the annulment of the policy.

Instead, Nix believed that Obama had simply restated the same promise he made during his campaign for the presidency. At the same time, conservatives believe Obama is drawing too much attention to the issue when he should be focusing on more important issues like the current budget crisis. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s spokesperson, seemed cognizant of this criticism, stating, “There are many challenges facing our nation now and the president-elect is focused first and foremost on jump-starting this economy.” So it seems that although Obama has signaled his willingness to end this discriminatory policy, the actual repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is still some time away.

As President Obama seeks to maneuver among different political priorities, it is important to remember that just as it is unjust to infringe on a person’s religious choices, it is also unjust to infringe on a person’s right to express their sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation is not something that can be chosen; it just is what it is. All Americans are entitled to, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If a serviceperson may be expected to give his or her life for this country, he or she should be at liberty to pursue personal happiness in public.

There is simply no plausible argument against open sexual orientation in the military. The military is about comaraderie and nothing about being gay or lesbian affects that. In ancient times, Phaedrus from Plato’s Symposium said, “If only there were a way to start a city or an army made up of lovers and the boys they love! Theirs would be the best possible system of society, for they would hold back from all that is shameful, and seek honor in each other’s eyes.” (Plato.179A). Here Phaedrus speaks specifically of homosexual love, although his idea, I believe, applies to all forms.

Title 10 of the U.S. Code Collection (dealing with the armed forces), states in Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 37, code 654, “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

This code is the basis of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but it has major flaws in its logic. It is discriminatory in its premise, and seems designed only to keep homosexuals out of the army. There are no co-ed sleeping quarters in the army, and it’s not as if homosexuals are engaging in sexual acts in public. Yes, men live with other men in the military, but it is only homophobia (being the fear or hatred of homosexuals) that would disturb order or unit cohesion. This code, simplified, states that homosexuality brings the morale and cohesion of military units down. This is very disappointing, because it shows that there is obviously still open discrimination in the military, not to mention in the government as a whole, and a wholesale misunderstanding of an entire segment of the population.

For Obama to acknowledge that change needs to happen now is wonderful. Allowing homosexuals to openly join the military is the first step. There will be those who will be uncomfortable with progress. However, despite these objections, the government should have the common courtesy to allow people of all sexual orientations the freedom of expression and liberty they deserve.

Alexander Helmintoller is a first-year English major. He can be reached at ahelmint@uci.edu.