I am all about equality. Really, it's a big deal to me and it'll probably come up a lot in my writing. The gay rights issue is huge and multi-faceted, but there is a particular aspect of it I would like to explore. To facilitate that, I'm going to make my general position (which I am not interested in exploring) clear from the beginning:
People deserve equal rights. You can believe all you want that other people are living in sin and are going to Hell, but you do not get to deny anyone their rights because of your beliefs.
Now that that's out of the way, I came across this little comic book on the Interwebs not too long ago. It's a training guide, in comic book form, on the US Military's Homosexual Conduct Policy. It was produced in 2001 and distributed to US troops in an attempt to make the actual legal issues surrounding 'Don't ask, don't tell' more accessible to troops. I don't think I would call it a success. The future of the soldier who comes out of the closet, thus ending his military career, is not addressed and the harassment issue is seriously downplayed. Could anyone really take this seriously?
'Don't ask, don't tell' was put in place in 1993 by Clinton as a compromise. Prior to DADT, military policy was that 'homosexuality is incompatible with military service'. Anyone caught being gay was discharged. One of Clinton's campaign promises was to allow all citizens to serve in the military regardless of sexual orientation, but he couldn't get any real changes through Congress except to stipulate that military applicants were not to be asked about their sexual orientation. Hence the name.
It is undeniably a discriminatory policy, and one of the reasons I supported Obama was that he promised to repeal DADT as part of his campaign. It took a while to get around to it, but back in May the House finally voted to repeal DADT...pending investigation into how 'disruptive' the policy change would be.
And that's the crux of the issue right there. Homosexuals are currently banned from military service because of the idea that "it would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." A lot of people believe that. 'But that's silly!' you may cry. 'Gay people are there already, they're just being forced to lie about themselves!' Certainly ultra-conservative reactions against the repeal of DADT, claiming that rape and HIV will spread across the ranks, are patently ridiculous. But what about your average, slightly homophobic soldier who was just more comfortable being able to pretend there weren't any guys checking him out in the shower? What about the very real problem of military harassment? Will it really be that disruptive? How is this investigation being carried out, anyway?
The military is conducting a survey, collecting subjective data from 400,000 troops. In a way this makes sense. The troops themselves are the ones that will be affected the most by the policy change. The survey itself is already receiving some significant criticism, though. Especially from the LGBT community. The questions, many of which are multiple choice, are accused of containing skewed language and pertaining to useless or inappropriate subject matter. I haven't read the whole thing, but here's a PDF if you're interested.
Honestly, I've found this piece to be the most informative in terms of actual soldier's opinions...if you scroll down to the comments section, that is. I've seen everything, from blatant condemnation of homosexuality to real concern for equality and fairness for their fellow soldiers, from actual people. It really is a mixed bag.
So now the big question becomes: How? Officers can talk all they want about discipline and professionalism, but counting on discipline to maintain 'unit cohesion' in the face of such an inflammatory issue just doesn't seem realistic to me. Segregating gay and straight soldiers is morally suspect (Separate but equal? Oh yeah, that worked so well before.) and certainly isn't practical. Repealing DADT is necessary and important, but I don't envy the officers that are going to have to deal directly with the consequences. It would be a fascinating social experiment if it weren't taking place within our military.
Ok, it's still more than a little fascinating, but it's also a bit disconcerting to think about a lack of stability in our military. It wouldn't take much more than a healthy level of paranoia to feel threatened by that. Our LGBT troops deserve every bit of respect and honor that our straight troops receive, however. It's about time we started doing something to fix this inequality.