by Johnny Murdoc
Today should prove to be an important step forward for gay rights, as far as gays serving in the military is concerned. Just a short while ago, the U.S. Department of Defense released the findings of their thorough survey regarding the feelings of military personnel toward the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). The report comes down exactly where the gay rights community has expected it to, considering that several important findings had already been leaked. Still, that doesn’t lessen the impact of the study itself, which is considered to be crucial for a legislative repeal of DADT. The introduction reads, in part:
“Based on all we saw and heard, our assessment is that, when coupled with the prompt implementation of the recommendations we offer below, the risk of repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to overall military effectiveness is low. We conclude that, while a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will likely, in the short term, bring about some limited and isolated disruption to unit cohesion and retention, we do not believe this disruption will be widespread or long-lasting, and can be adequately addressed by the recommendations we offer below. Longer term, with a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism, and respect for all, we are convinced that the U.S. military can adjust and accommodate this change, just as it has others in history.”
I’m only just now getting a chance to make a cursory reading of the report, but so far I’ve been nothing short of astounded (to the extent that I’m slightly disappointed that I’m home alone, and have no one to hug while jumping up and down). I think it’s possible that this report and its findings could have major implications outside of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as well. So much of the fear about repealing DADT was steeped in homophobia, based on horrible (and inaccurate stereotypes), and this report’s findings bravely address those. If the hyper-masculine culture of the United States Military can address, and find lacking, the major stereotypes about gay men and women, maybe the rest of the country can, too.
It’s important to remember, though, that the fight isn’t over. The Obama administration (who has a less-than-impressive track record when it comes to gay rights) has a big fight ahead of them, and at least one conservative oaf (I won’t name names, but the man I’m talking about may have spectacularly failed at winning the presidential election against Obama, and may be feeling a heavy case of sour grapes) has threatened to filibuster any discussion of repeal. This man (coughMcCaincough) may sound increasingly ignorant now that the military’s survey is out, but ignorance is hardly a roadblock when it comes to US politics.
Below the cut, I’m going to excerpt some short parts that I find particularly relevant, especially on the topics of military chaplains, co-habitation, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s outlawing of sodomy (this one affects straight servicemembers, as well.) You can read the full report for yourself here.
On chaplains, and the right to religious freedom of expression:
“First, the reality is that in today’s U.S. military, Service members of sharply religious convictions and moral values—including those who believe that abortion is murder and those who do not, and those who believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and those who do not—and those who have no religious convictions at all, already co-exist, work, live, and fight together on a daily basis. This is a reflection of the pluralistic American society at large.
Second, with regard to Service members concerned about their own individual expression and free exercise of religion, we conclude that no modified or revised policy is required, particularly in light of the training and education we are recommending in the event of repeal. In our view, existing policies regarding individual expression and free exercise of religion by Service members are adequate. Service members will not be required to change their personal views and religious beliefs; they must, however, continue to respect and co-exist with others who may hold different views and beliefs.
Third, existing DoD and Service policies and guidance pertaining to chaplains is adequate to accommodate a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In our view, existing policies on chaplains’ protections and obligations are adequate and strike an appropriate balance between protecting a chaplain’s First Amendment freedoms and a chaplain’s duty to care for all.”
On the UCMJ’s sodomy ban:
Article 125 of the UCMJ treats all acts of sodomy, heterosexual, homosexual, consensual, or otherwise, as punishable conduct. In Lawrence v. Texas,360 the Supreme Court held that private consensual sodomy between adults cannot be considered a crime. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces reached a similar conclusion in the military context in the case United States v. Marcum.361 In light of these decisions, we recommend that Article 125 be repealed or amended to the extent it prohibits consensual sodomy between adults, regardless of sexual orientation.
On separated housing:
We do not recommend segregated housing for gay or lesbian Service members. We believe this would do more harm than good for unit cohesion, create a climate of stigmatization and isolation, and be impossible to enforce or administer unless Service members are required to disclose their sexual orientation. On the other hand, we are sensitive to concerns expressed to us by commanders that disputes may arise between gay and straight Service members assigned to live together involving, at least to some extent, sexual orientation. Commanders should have the flexibility, on a case-by-case basis, to addresses those concerns in the interests of maintaining morale, good order, and discipline.
On separated bathrooms:
Here again, we are convinced that separate bathroom facilities would do more harm than good to unit cohesion and would be impracticable to administer and enforce. Concerns about showers and bathrooms are based on a stereotype—that gay men and lesbians will behave in an inappropriate or predatory manner in these situations. As one gay former Service member told us, to fit in, co-exist, and conform to social norms, gay men have learned to avoid making heterosexuals feel uncomfortable or threatened in situation such as this. The reality is that people of different sexual orientation use shower and bathroom facilities together every day in hundreds of thousands of college dorms, college and high school gyms, professional sports locker rooms, police and fire stations, and athletic clubs.
Accordingly, we recommend the Department of Defense expressly prohibit the designation of separate facilities based on sexual orientation, except that commanders retain the authority to adjudicate requests for accommodation of privacy concerns on an individualized, case-by-case basis in the interest of maintaining morale, good order, and discipline, and consistent with performance of mission.