American Institutions Current Issues in the don’t ask don’t tell Military Policy

The issues surrounding the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” can be reduced down to two polarized mindsets in society: those who are anti-gay and those who are gay or are pro-gay. This black and white separation is based on the idea that being gay is either inherently deviant, wrong and should not be tolerated at all; or that being gay is a state of being that should never cause people to be mistreated, discriminated against or lose the rights that everyone else has.

A more realistic separation includes those who are not gay, but who will fight for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, to live full lives and to have the same rights and opportunities in life as every other citizen. There is a larger group of Americans who support and have acceptance of their gay friends, family, co workers and neighbors, but the smaller group of virulently anti-gay Americans seem to have more power.

Thus, the cute trick of seeming to do something to help gays stay in the military while actually doing nothing at all would inevitably lead to calls for ending the “DADT” policy and allowing full acceptance of gays in military duty and life. But there are three problems.

First, the military can be an overall quite conservative institution and segment of the population. This does not mean that they are all merely politically conservative, but there is a social conservatism, too. There is enormous pressure in the military to associate “good order and discipline” with promoting nuclear family structures, traditional religions, heterosexual relations and the institution of marriage between only one man and one woman. Even couples or individuals who have children outside of marriage or who have mixed officer/enlisted relationships can be given plenty of trouble.

But gays have been in the military since the first military ever existed! This is a fact that belies the militarist’s external appearance of overwhelming conservatism and homophobia in social and political values.

Many gays and lesbians have been tolerated in the US military, have been given great advantages and not always in fairness. Many have even racially discriminated or were key players in making officially discriminatory policies against women and other minorities. As a result, the idea of a universally hostile and delicate military environment that has no tolerance for gays and lesbians is a great myth.

The source of the problems with ending DADT lies in the general society. When all 50 states cannot even agree on gay and lesbian anti discrimination law or on legalizing gay marriage, then the military can do nothing to institute something that the general society will not institute. And even after African American soldiers were given more rights and opportunities, virulent and overt racism persisted and is even having a resurgence today, just as racism is on the rise in general American society.

The source of the problems with full acceptance of gays in the military lie in Congress, which has repeatedly failed and refused to enact laws that give permanent and lasting equal rights and opportunities to gays and lesbians in the military.

The President can issue all of the executive orders that he wants to, but there are entrenched anti-gay powers who will challenge that executive order immediately, or the next president can rescind it, immediately plunging gay and lesbian soldiers back into the dark ages of an anti gay military.

The source of the problems lie in the Supreme court, already an extremist right-wing court that has not been seen in any recent history. This court has demonstrated a propensity for going beyond its powers to interfere with state’s rights, as with the Gore-Bush Florida election case and to write law, as with giving the Corporation the rights that the citizens do not even have: to give unlimited money to political campaigns.

The Supreme Court, as it is composed now is expected, without wasting time, to override any military gay tolerance law written by Congress or any such executive order written by the President.

As a result, the most important issue surrounding getting full rights and acceptance of gays in the military lies in the power of those who do not want gays and lesbians to serve in the US military. Whether those powers represent a definitive minority of unelected Americans or not, they seem to be able to make the nation’s decisions and to convince the voting public to carry out their wishes. 

The greatest fear should be that such political entities will get enough of themselves into power to end even “DADT” and to cause a pogrom against gays that have managed to serve under even that limited amount of protection.