Q: Top U.S. defense officials say they will repeal the decades-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which requires gay soldiers to keep their sexual orientation secret. Homosexuality is often cast as a religious issue. Should religious views of homosexuality be a factor in such military decisions? Should the U.S. military repeal its ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy?
Religious fundamentalists often justify their homophobia with the sound bite, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” The Middle East writers of this Adam and Eve fable quite understandably placed the happy first couple in a paradise located in a land they knew. Today we have incontrovertible evidence that the first humans emerged from Africa, not the Middle East, and we have a common ancestor that makes all our citizens African Americans. Had we known this in the 1940’s, perhaps there would have been less opposition to black African Americans serving in the military alongside white African Americans. Then again, scientific evidence is rarely sufficient to sway racists or religious fundamentalists.
If evidence matters, we should look at other militaries. In more than 30 countries, including allies like Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, gay Steves and Samanthas serve openly and effectively alongside straight Adams and Eves. The question for me is not whether “Don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed, but why it’s taking so long. If the United States can’t be a leader in civil rights, it should at least not follow so far behind.
Politicians on both the right and left praise our military as America’s finest men and women, who are fighting to preserve our precious freedoms. So how can we deny freedom of speech to gays and lesbians in the military? And how can we insult America’s finest by insinuating that they “can’t handle the truth,” as Jack Nicholson famously said in the military movie A Few Good Men? Because of over-commitments to wars, the Army had to lower its recruitment standards and allow high school dropouts and felons convicted of minor crimes to sign up. Yet at the same time, we have deemed unworthy those otherwise well qualified and educated openly gay men and women. Our country would be better served were we to strive for more, rather than just a few, good men and women.
I don’t think sexual orientation should be a factor in determining individual rights, whether inside or outside the military. So for those who believe our current military policy is working well, I have this proposal: Extend “Don’t ask, don’t tell” to all members of the military, heterosexual as well as homosexual. If that sounds ridiculous to you, and it should, ask yourself why our current policy is not ridiculous.