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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - 12/9/10
(Updated 12/16/10)

Senate Democrats are calling for a vote to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. An expedited vote could come as early as this weekend. The proposal was originally tied to a defense authorization bill, but is now separate. The house passed a standalone bill on Dec. 15.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for the end of debate, or cloture, on Thursday. With cloture, the Senate can take a procedural vote on the repeal legislation, then a final vote by Sunday. Because Republican Sens. Collins, Snowe, Brown, and Murkowski support the legislation, it appears Reid has the 60 votes needed for cloture.

This is a bit off topic for this website, which usually focuses on local issues, but I decided, as a veteran myself, to throw in my two bits on this controversy.

One writer entitled her column urging repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Care." Her point was that the policy was a distraction, diverting attention from more important issues. But it is a big deal to the military. A recent survey of military personnel found that around 70 percent feel they can work with openly gay soldiers, but that still leaves a substantial number who are uncomfortable in that situation. One of the primary concerns is how permitting openly gay people to serve in the military will affect troop morale. A subset of the anti-repeal faction questions the timing of the repeal with American forces engaged in war on two fronts. However, some foreign militaries allow openly gay people to enlist, and some of these soldiers serve along side Americans in the combat theaters.

I served in the military (the Army) during the Vietnam War, when the force was largely comprised of draftees. I was not a draftee myself, but an R.O.T.C. commissioned officer. I served nearly 20 years as a cadet and reservist, and on active duty. I did not go to Vietnam. Anyone who has served in the military understands that it is in many respects a unique culture, even with separate laws and courts. It's not like a job at I.B.M. or Walmart, where you can just walk away if you damned well please.

One aspect of the military culture down through the years is the belief that gays do not fit. The concern is for the younger enlistees who live, work, eat, and play together almost all the time. As an officer, I mostly lived off-base, alone. As a civilian, I have worked -- and probably most of you have -- and had social contact with gay people, without any problem. However, civilian life is different.

The cultural belief that gays do not belong in the military has translated into policy from the beginning of this country. A Wikipedia article states that an officer was discharged from the Revolutionary Army for committing sodomy. If I remember correctly, during my service prior to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a person could be discharged because he had engaged in same-gender sex in his lifetime, before or during his service.

In the time of the Vietnam War, many people who were drafted wanted to get out. There were basically two ways -- neither way an assured strategy. First, claim to be a conscientious objector. Second, claim to be gay. In my experience, few young men opted to be gay.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a compromise between the status quo and the "gay rights" position and, of course, came into being after the draft ended. The law was signed by President Clinton in 1993. 10 U.S.C. ß 654 provides, in part:

A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations:

(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts unless there are further findings, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations, that the member has demonstrated that --

(A) such conduct is a departure from the memberís usual and customary behavior;

(B) such conduct, under all the circumstances, is unlikely to recur;

(C) such conduct was not accomplished by use of force, coercion, or intimidation;

(D) under the particular circumstances of the case, the memberís continued presence in the armed forces is consistent with the interests of the armed forces in proper discipline, good order, and morale; and

(E) the member does not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.

(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect, unless there is a further finding, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in the regulations, that the member has demonstrated that he or she is not a person who engages in, attempts to engage in, has a propensity to engage in, or intends to engage in homosexual acts.

(3) That the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.

I am confident that if this law is repealed, the services will handle it with honor and dignity. A federal judge in San Antonio once told me something that has stuck with me. He told me that if he asks for something -- information or a document -- from most federal agencies who were parties to lawsuits in his court, it could take days or months. But if he asks the Army for something, it would take the time to drive from the courthouse to Fort Sam Houston and back. The point is that the services are used to carrying out orders and missions. This other aspect of the military culture -- professionalism -- will prevail in this case -- of that I am sure.

Every person who is physically and mentally able and is otherwise qualified should have the opportunity to serve in the armed forces.

It would be naive to believe that repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" will not result in some difficulties. Although the military is a distinct culture disciplined to create uncommon cohesion and cooperation in an organization, it is also an amalgam of all the cultures and prejudices of American society. I agree with the DoD study that "with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history."

Conclusion: Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

RECOMMENDED READING: U.S. Dept. of Defense, Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of ďDonít Ask, Donít TellĒ (Nov. 2010)

The Hill was used as an additional source for this article.