By Eric Rader
The Pentagon has released its long-awaited report on the potential impact of allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military. Unsurprisingly, the comprehensive survey of 115,000 service members finds that the vast majority of American soldiers would have no major problems serving with openly gay and lesbian soldiers. Gays and lesbians have served in the U.S. military since the beginning of the Republic, though never openly. Until 1993, the military refused to allow gay people to serve in the military at all, though many closeted gays and lesbians served with great distinction. Straight service members knew that they served with gay people, yet most didn’t object. In a life-threatening career, the sexual orientation of one’s comrade-in-arms is of little concern. As the late conservative senator Barry Goldwater once remarked, a person doesn’t need to be straight to serve in the military, he or she only needs to “shoot straight.”
In 1993, President Bill Clinton attempted to end the military’s prohibition on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. Unfortunately, Clinton did not anticipate the firestorm of criticism his effort elicited. Military leaders and members of Congress strongly objected to Clinton’s effort to allow gays and lesbians to serve without discrimination. Within months of taking office, President Clinton was forced to accept the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” compromise; in 1994, the DADT policy was enacted as a federal law. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, over 14,000 soldiers have been discharged under DADT since 1994. Discharging so many qualified soldiers from the military during a time of great danger for our country has only served to make our nation more vulnerable to those who would hurt us. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has correctly observed that DADT is “un-American.”
When Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he promised to end the DADT policy. While many people in the LGBT community have been disappointed in the president’s slow movement on fulfilling this promise, he is moving aggressively on it now. Throughout 2010, the Department of Defense has conducted an exhaustive study on how allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would affect the morale and commitment of active duty service members. While some would argue that such a study should not be necessary since bigotry of any kind should not be tolerated in the military, the president recognized the political reality of our times on this issue. The strongest proponents of the existing policy stated that they would only consider changing the policy if the Pentagon would exhaustively review and study the impact of ending DADT.
Beginning last March, the Department of Defense surveyed approximately 115,000 service members on their feelings about ending DADT. This survey was unprecedented in size and demonstrates the seriousness of the military’s desire to end this policy in a fair manner. The most important number from the report is 70 ,Aei this represents the percentage of active duty members of the military who would not object to ending DADT. The report also found that of those troops who had served with soldiers whom they believed to be gay, the vast majority found that their presence did not negatively affect their unit’s cohesiveness. The bottom line with the military is what we know from personal experience: when people know a person who is LGBT, they are less likely to exhibit bigoted attitudes based on ignorance. Of course, not all soldiers would be fine with the end of DADT. However, the purpose of the survey was not to solicit opinions on whether the policy should be ended. The report was focused on what the impact of ending the policy would be on the military as a whole. This study demonstrates that the U.S. Armed Forces would experience minimal disruption in opening their ranks to openly gay and lesbian soldiers. The members of the U.S. military have demonstrated throughout our history that they know how to take orders and execute them well. This study confirms the wisdom of our nation’s founders in placing the military under civilian leadership in the U.S. Constitution.
What is clear now is that only the most virulent opponents of equality support continued discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military. Military commanders, soldiers, the president, moderate Republicans, and the vast majority of American citizens all now support allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly. Two federal courts have already ruled against DADT. The end of DADT is now inevitable. It’s now the U.S. Senate’s job to do the right thing and end it legislatively. If the Senate won’t act, then the courts certainly will. Despite this nation’s long history of discrimination, equality always wins out in the end. Those are the very values for which our soldiers gay or straight – so bravely fight.
Contact Michigan Senators Levin and Stabenow and voice your support for ending DADT NOW, before Congress adjourns for the year:
Senator Carl Levin: http://levin.senate.gov/contact/
Senator Debbie Stabenow: http://stabenow.senate.gov/email.cfm
Pentagon website on DADT–includes the comprehensive report:
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network website: