Senate, House Vote to Bring Honesty to U.S. Military

U.S. soldiers saluting
U.S. soldiers saluting

Late Thursday, in a 16-12 vote, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a provision to repeal the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevented homosexual soldiers from serving openly. A few hours later, the House voted similarly on an identical provision, 234 to 194.

Five Republican members of the House voted "yes" and 26 Democrats voted "no." While Sen. John McCain of Arizona called it "harmful to the morale and effectiveness of our military," Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign argued instead that the vote marked "the beginning of the end of a shameful ban on open service by lesbian and gay troops that has weakened our national security." The "don't ask, don't tell" policy is, at its heart, both discriminatory and dishonest, undermining the very soldiers it was designed to protect.

Integrity and Honor

As I write this, my husband is packing his body armor and his M16. He flies Friday from Ft. Benning, Georgia, to Kuwait. No doubt his unit will include a number of gays and lesbians in rough proportion to their presence in the general U.S. population. And these soldiers have all the integrity and honor you'd expect from any other soldier, and the desire to be truthful always -- unless it would get them fired, or hurt a loved one. Sadly, in all branches of the U.S. military, under "don't ask, don't tell" the truth will get you fired, if said truth is a homosexual orientation.

My husband is comfortable serving alongside a gay or lesbian soldier. As the wife at home, I'm fine with it, too. What concerns me is the compromises. It's traditional in any military organization to get to know your fellow soldiers well. Who would you need to know more intimately than the one with whom you must, at some point, face enemy fire? But how intimately can you get to know your fellow soldiers if too much knowledge, in the wrong hands, can mean the end of a someone's livelihood?

People, whether soldier or civilian, are keen to protect their jobs. If your job is in the military, bad performance can get you killed, or thrown in jail outside of the civilian legal system. If your work skills are uniquely suited to a military career, losing your job doesn't just mean looking for a new one. There may be nothing left. Having to hide, as a condition of one's employment, a sexual orientation that may or may not have even been consciously accepted when you signed up as a teenager creates the very compromise of integrity the military works so hard to combat in other aspects of a soldier's life.

Emotional Health, Financial Stability

A soldier's emotional health and financial stability are central to the military's concerns when it prepares that individual to protect his or her country. The security clearance necessary to fight in any of the active overseas operations contains such mundane questions as "Have you ever been 90 days late on a bill?" and "Have family and friends expressed concern about your emotional stability?" Answer "yes" to any of these questions and you'll have a military inspector review your life, asking if you'd give up your country's secrets in exchange for having your debts relieved, or asking for letters from your therapist.

The military wants to send soldiers to war who, at the most basic, are emotionally secure enough to see terrible things and come out on the other side still pointing their weapons in the right direction. The military needs to send soldiers to war who aren't within a hair's-breadth of financial ruin. Soldiers must be able to trust one another, to look at a fellow soldier in the eye and tell him anything and not worry it will mean the end. Going to war -- or even sitting in an office in the U.S. creating policy for warriors -- while in possession of a damning secret is a liability so huge, it's a stupid policy indeed that sets soldiers up for such a dilemma.

The Morale of Soldiers

Opponents concerned about the morale of soldiers should chat with any soldier who's ever not told, or suspected a fellow soldier can't tell, who they really are. There you will see morale at its worst. Concerned about sexual harassment? That ship sailed decades ago. One-third of women in the military say they've been sexually harassed. Allowing gay men to come out without fear of retribution may even reduce the relatively small 6% of men who say they've been harassed.

For those who are putting their lives on the line for our freedom, the very least we can do as a nation is to respect their lives. For those who are fighting for our safety, the very least we can do is to let them have their integrity, and their jobs, too.