In a surprising departure from military norms that discourage officers from expressing controversial personal views, Gen. Peter Pace candidly remarked last week that he believes homosexuality is both immoral and comparable to adultery. While Pace has every right to express his opinion, his statements highlight the negative perception of homosexuality that continues to resonate in the both the military and in American society. Continuing policies that isolate and demonize homosexuality is discriminatory and undermines the spirit of our country’s laws protecting freedom and equality.
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the key architects of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Pace’s comments could not be any more revealing. Since its inception in 1993, the policy has “compromised” between those who believe homosexuals should be allowed to serve openly and those, like Pace, who believe that homosexuality is immoral and that gay people should be barred from service.
This discriminatory policy is justified by the argument that allowing gay people to serve openly could weaken troop cohesion, deplete recruitment, lower morale and, as Pace would say, “condone immoral acts” comparable to “sleeping with somebody else’s wife.”
What the policy really compromises, though, is the 14th Amendment. The justifications being used to discriminate against homosexuals echo the logic that kept women and blacks out of the military in the past. If history has shown our country only one thing, it’s that these ideas of superiority are ill-founded. In the same way that blacks and women were able to integrate into the military without undermining its strength, there is no reason to believe that gay people are any less capable.
But there are still people who believe that allowing homosexuals to serve openly is somehow different because it makes heterosexual soldiers feel uncomfortable and that consequently undermines morale. Not only does this argument rest on the misconception that homosexuals are deviations who sexually prey on straight men, but it also assumes that straight people cannot accept homosexuality. The truth is that gay people are already in the military, serving side-by-side with heterosexual soldiers without incident. Allowing a policy that forces homosexuals to hide their identity only codifies the prejudice against them and perpetuates the biases in our society.
Instead of protecting the U.S. military from fragmentation, “don’t ask, don’t tell” works to weaken the armed forces. At a time when the military is lowering its recruitment standards to include violent criminals, it is also turning away highly-qualified people who happen to be gay. Since 1994, more than 10,000 soldiers have been discharged because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Of these discharged soldiers, roughly 50 have been fluent in Arabic, a skill so highly demanded in the military that some translators make as much as $150,000 a year.
According to a Servicemembers Legal Defense Network estimate, the policy continues to threaten the enlistment of more than 65,000 soldiers and discourages thousands more from ever enlisting. Lawmakers should be more concerned about the negative effects of the current policy than pandering to society’s biases.
Simply put, what the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” advocates is discrimination. It’s ironic that the leader of an institution waging an immoral war in Iraq is trying to protect the moral purity of that institution. It’s sad just how far from moral his ideas are.