Monday, January 17, 2011

DADT - Round Two

When, in his January 15 Forum column, Jeff McAlister charged me with "championing the rights of homosexuals to serve openly in the military," he missed the point almost entirely. In essence, it was the right of every American to serve openly that I was championing. Perhaps McAlister has no qualms about oppressing a whole class of his fellow Americans. I, however, do.

McAlister also stands ready to make the muddled pronouncement that some of us are to be considered "less equal" than others because they fail to reach some supposed moral standard that on closer inspection is revealed to be not moral at all. On the contrary, it is a petty, small-minded view of life not worthy of a people who pride themselves on egalitarianism and fairness.

It has been the understanding and practice of our country not to withhold the blessings of freedom and equality from any citizen who is a law abiding, ethical, and productive participant in its public life. Furthermore, we have deemed matters of the private lives of our citizenry off limits to all but the parties involved. Although sexual expression is a healthy element of each individual life, it is not the defining characteristic of any life, straight or gay.

McAlister denigrated the liberal tendency to make a "fetish of equality." I would offer that this is no badge of shame for an American, but one of honor. I would further suggest that what comes closer to a more conventional definition of the word fetish, is an excessive concern or interest in the private sexual lives of others.

Serving in our military, like much of the life of the country, is a matter of performing a public service to a grateful nation. In this case, our need for defense. People from all walks of life now serve in our military, although that hasn’t always been true. Once, African Americans weren’t allowed to serve. Females also faced similar restrictions.

Now, over many of the same objections put forth by conservatives, including perceived problems of living in "close quarters" and concerns over "unit cohesion," blacks and women are serving admirably. In fact, so are gay Americans. But whereas straight soldiers may serve openly as heterosexuals, gay servicemen and women have been required to maintain a hidden life throughout their tours of duty. In what world can such inequity be seen as fair, particularly in the face of potential injury or death while exercising ones duty to country? Apparently, in McAlister’s world.

Fortunately, non other than the United States military and Congress have identified and sought to eliminate inequality from our military, recognizing that the military is (and should be), a reflection of American society at large. Gay Americans contribute in countless positive ways to the life of our country. There is not one objective reason to withhold from them any right enjoyed by the rest of us. Most of us, gay or straight, obey the laws, pay our taxes, and play by the agreed upon rules of public life. On what legitimate basis can anyone justify the oppression of a class of Americans who fit the description above? Only illegitimate ones come to mind, such as the rigid, outdated conceptions of morality advocated by the regressive right.

Today in the Congress of the United States there are legislators who are religious and non-religious. There are legislators who are straight and gay. We have lawmakers who are Jewish, Buddhist, Christian and Muslim; who are black, Hispanic, male, female, white, and of asian descent. McAlister would continue to balkanize the armed services so as to present a false picture of who we are as a people. It bears asking that if our army doesn't look like the rest of us, then who are they fighting for?

The overarching theme to McAlister’s objections is that of morality. But who’s morality? Many of us (myself included) are able to lead moral lives without the need to discriminate against others. Also, McAlister's interest in moral standards seems obsessively focused on gays alone. Where is his concern over those in the military who are promiscuous? Where are his scruples regarding cases of military marital infidelity?

Perhaps true equality resides in allowing each member of the armed services see to his own private sexual affairs to the best of his or her ability, and concern ourselves with the only true measure of a soldier, which is whether or not he/she can carry out the orders of their superiors in the prosecution of war. Our men and women in arms are said to be among the toughest, most efficient and professional fighting forces on the planet. They have said they are able and ready to handle serving alongside their openly gay fellow Americans.

I believe them...shouldn’t we all?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Vice President, Joe Biden recently predicted that the repeal of the law known as "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" has essentially made the passage of marriage rights for gay Americans "inevitable." I would add that the most newsworthy aspect of his statement may be the fact that he managed to utter it without an expletive or a gaff. Certainly, for anyone with a modicum of understanding of American history or civics, his was an exercise in stating the obvious. Biden merely made note of the quintessential characteristic of the American heart and mind: Equality. Perhaps those among us who are surprised or appalled at the repeal of DADT, have simply failed to grasp what it means to be an American.

Much ink was expended in the Longview News Journal a week ago by columnist Jeff McAlister, who hyperventilated about issues of "unit cohesion," and the perils of living in "close quarters" with homosexual servicemen and women. Correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t U. S. military personnel been efficiently going about their duties with their gay comrades in arms for decades? No such deterioration of "unit cohesion" has been reported thus far, and I believe the sexual licentiousness alluded to by Mr. McAlister probably rests squarely with the heterosexual contingent of the armed services, which has never been known as a bulwark of moral rectitude.

Nor has any slippage in military effectiveness been noted in any of the other armed services around the globe which, once again, are way out ahead of the U. S. on the issue. Britain (which abolished slavery a century before we did), dealt with the issue of allowing gays to serve ten years ago. Last I heard, they have a military that, despite dire prophecies like those made by McAlister, is still functioning admirably. Indeed, according to a New York Times article, when British soldiers took the not insignificant risk of being open about their sexual orientation, it often had the effect of strengthening unit cohesion (

Ultimately, this coddling of the homophobic segment of the armed services is insulting to the vaunted toughness and determination that is perennially ascribed to soldiers in general. Gay Americans, as has been noted, are already risking life and limb for their country. Is it really too much to ask that they be allowed to serve without the added burden of anxiety over who might find out about their orientation? Why not pass a provision that homophobes should not be asked about their ignorance and bigotry, and if asked, shouldn’t tell, or else face expulsion from the military?

Conservative angst over the issues of gay military service or marriage equality might be more convincing if their track record on excluding other segments of society could stand up under scrutiny. The list is as impressive for its length as for the remarkable consistency conservatives have shown for being wrong. Black Americans were once thought to be too stupid or cowardly to be field medics, fly aircraft, or serve in combat. Women were thought incapable of doing many things for which their stellar performance is now taken for granted, including voting, leading corporations, and serving in the military with bravery and distinction. In each case, conservatives wailed and railed about our doomed society. For a doomed society, we look pretty good.

Candidly, McAlister revealed what I suspect was the driving concern behind his screed: Religion. He did this in the belief that bigotry which has its source in religion was somehow no longer bigotry, or at least was bigotry sanctioned by God. Mr. McAlister is of course free to hold retrograde ideas like that. It is his right as an American. But as there is no religious test for serving in our government, perhaps the time has come to drop such restrictions to serving on the field of battle. The reason for doing so has nothing to do with political correctness, or social experiments, or with the vagaries or passing fancies of culture. It simply has to do with plain American equality. If we are to be true to our creed, equal needs to mean equal. And a theology or god incapable of fairness, risks being outshone by a constitution fashioned by the hands and hearts of mere men.