“You know, I used to feel that way too until I found out that Alexander the Great was a fag. Talk about gays in the military!” – Albert Goldman (played by Nathan Lane), The Birdcage
The weekend was rather busy, so I’m a few days late on this story. Still, it seems to fit right in my wheelhouse of non-theocratic, conservative Christianity – so I’ll comment.
Official US military policy does not tolerate homosexuality. Those who practice homosexual acts or are admitted homosexuals are discharged. That is policy.
In an attempt to find some compromise for supporters on the political Left, president Clinton instituted a rather clever policy whereby the military is not allowed to ask whether a serviceman is homosexual (“don’t ask”). As long as the serviceman keeps quiet about the issue (“don’t tell”) then he or she is fine.
OK, so why the policy in the first place?
This appears to be one of those issues, and there are many of them, where social norms override any form of strict, libertarian-esque adherence to simple definitions of the role of government. Sodomy has been cause for discharge from the US military since before there was a US. And why not? Sodomy was widely held at the time as utter deviancy, later to become labeled as some form of psychopathy. Who would think that deviants or psychopaths would make good soldiers? (Remember this argument, it actually bears further examination in just a bit.)
My right-wing evangelical friends (I’m not being facetious, these guys are indeed close friends of mine) tend to drift into morality-based arguments for the policy. To this let me make two points. First, as a Christian, I recognize the Biblical opposition to homosexuality. You will find no mealymouthed arguments for confusing interpretations or reading the Bible with modern sensibilities here. This is a cut-and-dried, black-and-white issue. Having said that, the issue before the military is not whether homosexuality is moral, but whether it should be a condition for discharge from the military.
If the question is one of morality, then the military should discharge fornicators as well – a policy I suspect will not be forthcoming. Arguments for individual, personal morality hearken back to the Old Testament days of the nation of Israel. Then, the Lord Himself had directed the Israelites to obey His law and indicated that nobody would be able to stand before them (see Joshua 1, or maybe just the whole book of Joshua for that matter). I know of no such promise that the Lord made to the United States of America. I know of no such covenant between the Lord and the United States as an entity. To be sure, righteousness exalts a nation (Prov 14:34). I’m simply noting that it is not legitimate to draw comparisons between the US military and the nation of Israel. We are not the chosen people on a mission from God to reclaim the promised land and bring forth the Messiah – already been done.
(Side note for my right-wing evangelical friends. Arguments that decry “advancing the homosexual agenda” don’t fly here either. It’s reprehensible for government-funded public education institutions to indoctrinate school children with a radical agenda on sexuality. But in the military question we’re talking about adults who have made their own decisions – totally different issue.)
So, from an absolutist standpoint, I see no moral argument for excluding homosexuals from the military. I don’t think the government, or any of its entities should make such moral proclamations beyond defense of human life, liberty, and property. (Before you ask, yes, I’m still pro-life, an easily defensible position under the “life” portion of the aforementioned list.) I prefer a “don’t ask, don’t care” policy.
Having said that, I will note that there is a pragmatic argument to be made in defense of any number of military policies with which I might disagree. The proper role of the military derives from the proper role of government (or a democratic government anyway), the collective defense of individual rights. To this end, the military has the burden laid on it to field an effective fighting force. If standing on a morality-neutral position of inclusion makes that mission more difficult to accomplish because of social norms, then that position must be abandoned. The military must accomplish its primary mission first.
Now, I don’t mean this to indicate that I believe that abandoning the prohibition of homosexuals in the military would make recruitment or fielding an effective fighting force harder. It seems that social norms are changing. The younger generation is caring a bit less about sexual orientation. I suspect that a policy change towards “don’t ask, don’t care” will probably have less overall impact than the generals think.
Then again, recent news would tend to throw cold water on my above conjectures. The Wikileaks scandal stems from a homosexual private (Bradley Manning) who was upset about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and responded by leaking classified intelligence. Repealing the policy would open the door for, well, openness – and therefore greater social stigmatization (teasing, mocking, etc.). Do Manning’s actions give the military leadership more or less confidence that they can keep order and discipline once everything is out in the open? One wonders.
So the issue is a mess. Grandstanding will continue and arguments will fly back and forth. My guess is that the court system will push for resolution to the issue sooner than later – perhaps outlawing the current homosexual prohibition. This may well result in a “constitutional crisis” where the executive and judicial branches find themselves locked in a stalemate. It’s anybody’s guess what happens then.