Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Concerning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Recently, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips rendered up an opinion on the military's policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) regarding gay service members. Citing 1st Amendment and the Due Process clause, she ruled it an unconstitutional intrusion into the lives of gays and lesbians serving in the Armed Forces, and noted that the policy does nothing to promote military readiness or maintain good order in the services.

Predictably, I have a problem with her decision, because I find her opinion a drastic overreach of judicial authority. On the other hand, I have no problem AT ALL with the result. DADT was never more than a stop gap between complete intolerance of homosexuality within the Armed Services up to its implementation, and open acceptance of gays and lesbians within the ranks. It was, in its time, drastic, though still incremental, change.

I served in the USAF between 1983 and 1987, and during that time homosexuals would be discharged when discovered. In spite of that, I knowingly served with gays and lesbians; many of them. I have absolutely no doubt about that, and neither did anyone else, even if no one came out and said what everyone knew to be irrefutable fact. And nothing, precisely, NOTHING, happened either way.

We all did our jobs. When we were not on duty, we went our separate ways. On duty, I have no knowledge of anyone being creeped on in showers or propositioned in bathrooms; if there were propositions, whatever the polarity of the participants, things were kept private between consenting adults. In short, the military survived just fine and so did we.

So why do I have a problem with this judge making this ruling at this time?

Because military justice and military behavior are not, strictly speaking, covered under the Constitution. The military is a special case, carefully circumscribed and subject to its own rules and regulations.

Service members do not face civil justice for crimes they commit in the military; they face military justice because the standards of behavior and deportment are a very great deal more strict and rigid. They have to be. In the military, what you are allowed to say, how you are allowed to behave, and what you are allowed to do are regulated and deviation is proscribed. The reason is obvious. In wartime, in battle, and under pressure, everyone from the highest ranking general to the lowest buck private has to know how the people around them will behave, and that behavior, in mixed services, always involves how people relate to each other.

For these and many other reasons, fraternization has always been frowned upon as being deleterious to good order. But while fraternization between males and females can be avoided in the most stressful situations simply by segregating one from the other (females are not allowed to serve on the front lines, for instance), how can anyone stop single sex fraternization if one cannot tell the difference between gays and straights? The short answer is that you can't. The longer answer is that you can, but you have to be persistent. DADT basically suggests that the military won't go looking for homosexuals if service members don't make an issue of their sexuality.

Whether any or all of this was necessary is debatable, and it probably should be debated. At the time the policy was put into place, society was still coming to grips with the emergence of gays and lesbians into the mainstream. In that atmosphere, DADT was a significant improvement over the policies previously in place, which basically came down to giving suspected homosexuals a bad conduct discharge. And while DADT appears restrictive and, in some respects, unjust today, we need to remember that issues considered unthinkable a scant ten years ago today are being debated openly, and that is all to the good.

Frankly, the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is already coming. I do not expect it to survive another election cycle, and it will come as a result of changing societal norms and the evolving perceptions of what works and does not work within the military itself. I find that to be a good thing. And it is even better if the agreement is broadly reached and concluded, rather than narrowly decided by one judge writing in Riverside, California.

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