Papers all over the country this morning have front page stories reporting the remarks of Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top uniformed officer, who, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, came out in favor of revoking the armed forces’ policy of ” dont ask, don’t tell” policy with regard to homosexuals serving in the military.
The policy was set in place in the first few months of the Clinton Administration in 1993, when Clinton, having pledged to end the long established military ban on homosexuals serving in the military, floundered in his first public act as President when he issued a presidential order to lift the ban. But the public outcry, followed by a damning Congressional Report, suggested that such a policy would be a grave misstep. Thus was born the compromise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy by which commanding officers would not ask about the sexual orientation of their subordinates and the subordinates would not tell.
But the ban on gays in the military remained and anyone who crossed the line by openly declaring his or her homosexual inclination or engaging in homosexual conduct, would, under law, be removed from the armed services.
In 1993, the Congressional Report could not have been clearer on its insistence that open homosexuality in the armed forces could seriously affect the morale and effectivness of U.S. armed forces:
“The armed forces must maintain personnel policies that exclude persons whose presence in the armed forces would create an unacceptable risk to the armed forces’ high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability. The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capabilities.”
So what has changed since April, 1993? Well, according to Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Alliance – just about everything. For her Mullen’s remark ” represents a change in society and frankly, a change in the world.”
Well, um, not really. Mullen made clear that he was speaking for himself and nobody else (why the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be making public pronouncements of his private views on such a sensitive topic is anyone’s guess). But more than that, society’s willing embrace of homosexual lifestyles as normative conduct is not as pervasive as either Mullen or Carey would like to think.
According to a 2008 Gallup poll, homosexuality emerged as the most divisive of 16 major social and cultural issues measured in the May 8-11, 2008 survey. Only doctor-assisted suicide and abortion come close to it in splitting public opinion. The poll revealed the public to be evenly split between proponents and opponents, but this cannot be used to establish broad public acceptance.
Even more convincing evidence of the failure of homosexual rights to garner the support of a broad consensus in American society is the fact that gay marriage propositions have been widely defeated in recent state ballots in Florida, Arizona and California and bills to legalize gay marriage rejected by state legislatures in New Jersey, New York and Maine. Only five states have legalized same sex marriage – Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts and within most of these states, legal challenges are still burning a fuse.
But even if we do recognize that public acceptance of homosexuality is growing (and the polls make that claim incontrovertible) that does not mean the Army should suddenly swing open its doors to alternative life styles. As Mackubin Thomas Owens argues persuasively in today’s Wall Street Journal:
“The destructive impact of such relationships on unit cohesion can be denied only by ideologues. Does a superior order his or her beloved into danger? If he or she demonstrates favoritism, what is the consequence for unit morale and discipline? What happens when jealousy rears its head? These are questions of life and death, and they help to explain why open homosexuality and homosexual behavior traditionally have been considered incompatible with military service.”
How men, living in close quarters with one another and bound by a camaraderie and commitment to one another’s safety (which is essential to military effectivness) can be expected to endure the sexual tensions that such a policy would arouse, should be the primary question in this debate.
For as the 1993 Congressional Report itself states:
‘The extraordinary responsibilities of the armed forces, the unique conditions of military service, and the critical role of unit cohesion, require that the military community, while subject to civilian control, exist as a specialized society. This military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs, and traditions, including numerous restrictions on personal behavior, that would not be acceptable in civilian society.”
This specialized society is a social environment that neither Bill Clinton, nor Barack Obama can recognize for neither served in uniform. If they had, perhaps their own views would be tethered to the realities of life in the military and what it takes to build an effective and deadly fighting force. That might not excuse the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but who knows what political considerations are driving the expression of such private views.