Gays In The Military Essay, Research Paper
“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and How It’s Affected the Military
For nearly 50 years, it has been the U.S. military’s official policy to exclude homosexuals from service. In November 1992, President – elect Clinton told Americans that he planned to lift the military’s long – standing ban on gays and lesbians. Homosexual men and women, he said, should not be prevented from serving their country based on their sexual orientation. Soon after taking office in 1993, Clinton faced powerful military and congressional opposition to lifting the ban. General Colin Powell, then – chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Senator Sam Nunn, who was chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee between 1987 an 1994 and left Congress in 1996, announced that they would seek to block his attempts to lift the ban.
For the next six months, debate raged over what to do about the military’s ban on gays and lesbians. Clinton’s liberal supporters wanted him to follow through on his promise to lift the ban, urging the need to end discrimination against gays and lesbians. Conservatives, military leaders and some lawmakers of both parties argued that the presence of declared homosexuals in the armed forces would be detrimental to military readiness. They said that letting gays and lesbians serve would destroy all morale and erode good discipline and order. Ban opponents maintained that gay people were capable men and women who should be allowed to serve their county.
In July 1993, a compromise policy was struck between supporters and opponents of the ban. The compromise, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they did not proclaim their homosexuality or engage in
homosexual conduct. Under the policy, military commanders would not try to find out the sexual orientation of the personnel, and gay and lesbian personnel would not disclose their sexual orientation. The policy marked a change from past practice in that simply being homosexual was no longer a disqualifier for military service. Conservatives saw the change as a regrettable relaxation of the absolute ban on gay people. Liberals were dissatisfied because the new policy still allowed the military to oust gays and lesbians if
they revealed their orientation.
While some liberals disagree with the policy, arguing that it punishes gays and lesbians for engaging in the same kinds of behavior that heterosexuals are free to engage in, they maintain that military leaders should at least abide by the policy and end their “witch hunts” for gay people. Many see the right to serve openly in the military as a fundamental civil right for gays and lesbians. Groups such as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have supported gay service members in legal challenges to the policy. In 1997 SLDN documented 563 violations of the policy.
The Clinton administration and military leaders defend the current policy and the way it has been enforced. They argue that allowing gay people to serve openly would harm military readiness by destroying troops’ morale and disrupting order and discipline. Policy defenders argue that the military is a special institution that holds itself to stricter rules than those observed by the rest of society. Because the armed forces must fulfill the crucial mission of defending the U.S. and its allies, they say, its leaders’ views on how to achieve optimal readiness should be respected. Pentagon officials say that while they believe the current policy is working well, they will investigate cases of alleged abuse.
Gay people have not always been barred from military service, and in fact, have served in the nation’s wars throughout its history. The military’s official stance toward gays and lesbians has evolved over time, often in tandem with social change. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, homosexuality was treated as a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment. That attitude began to change in the early 1940’s, when homosexuality came to be viewed as treatable mental illness. As the nation prepared to enter World War II, military leaders consulted psychiatrists on the issue of gays and lesbians. In 1943, psychiatrists helped them write regulations that barred gay people from military service. It was not until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association announced that it no longer classified homosexuality as a mental illness.
In 1950, those regulations officially became part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 125 of that law, an anti – sodomy statute, prohibits oral or anal sex by any service members. During the 1950s, at the height of concerns over the spread of
Communism around the globe, military leaders began to view gay people as “security risks.” It was believed that foreign powers could more easily turn gays and lesbians against their country than heterosexuals since threatened disclosures about their personal
lives could be used to blackmail them.
The 1960s and 1970s saw increasingly stringent policies enacted against gays and lesbians, although in rare cases openly gay personnel were allowed to serve. Prior to World War II, commanders had been given wide latitude in deciding whether to discharge gay troops, allowing merit and good service to be considered. In the decades following the war, however, even as the gay – rights movement gained steam in society at large, military policies became more strict. Automatic expulsion from the forces had become the norm by the late 1970s.
In the 1980s, the expulsion of known gays and lesbians from the armed forces became mandatory. W. Graham Claytor, deputy defense secretary under President Jimmy Carter, saw to it that Pentagon policy stated that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In 1982, that statement was incorporated into a presidential directive mandating gays’ dismissal. Throughout the 1980s, concerns about the spread of AIDS further solidified some military leaders’ opposition to allowing gay people to serve. The
directive remained in place until 1994, when it was supersede by the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Between 1980 and 1990, the armed forces discharged an average of 1,500 service members annually because of their homosexuality.
Defenders of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy argue that the military must do what it needs to maintain the strongest possible fighting force. In order to carry out that obligation, they say, military leaders must have the authority and discretion to set rules as they see fit to keep up morale and maintain order. On the issue of gay people’s service, they say, if military commanders maintain that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be detrimental to morale and discipline, then courts and public should respect that decision.
Defenders of the ban and of the military’s current policy dispute the notion that military personnel should be afforded the same constitutional protections as civilians. Policy supporters maintain that the military is a unique institution with its own set of rules. Opponents of the current policy believe that while the military may have a special status in society, courts still cannot permit it to violate the Constitution.
Many gay – rights activists and other observers view the issue of the treatment of gays and lesbians in the military as one of clear – cut discrimination. As the nation largest employer, they say, the armed forces should not be allowed to discriminate against people
based on sexual orientation. Moreover, they say, the military serves as a symbol for the rest of society. If the federal government itself discriminates against gay people, they say, that sends a powerful message to other employers and to society at large
I’ve discovered in doing this report that some opposition to gay people’s military service is based on moral concerns. I feel that many people believe that homosexuality is wrong and do not want the federal government to appear to condone it by allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Some observers point out that gay people have not yet been fully accepted and integrated into society at large. They say that asking the military to accept gays and lesbians is simply asking too much.