Research Paper: Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy: Gays in the Military

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Gays in the Military

COMING to TERMS WITH CHANGE

A January 26, 2010 study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law said that approximately 66,000 homosexuals and bisexuals are currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces (Webley, 2010). A June 2009 Gallup survey found that 69% of Americans allowed gays to serve in the military. And President Obama, in his first State of the Union address, declared to finally repeal the law that forbade them to do so "because of who they are." The overwhelming sentiment should repeal the Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993, also known as the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It needs an act of Congress to formally and effectively repeal it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are proposing that repeal in the first congressional hearing, the first in 17 years. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikasvili expressed the popular sentiment in a letter to Pentagon leaders. A nation built on the principle of equality needs to recognize the fact and adapt to it by introducing appropriate changes for a stronger, more cohesive military (Webley).

Historical Contempt

Acceptance of gays in military service was ordinary and even encouraged in ancient Greece (Webley, 2010). Plato celebrated gay relationship as an inspiration to soldiers to fight better in battle. But attitudes changed from the time of the Crusades in the 14th century. Knights were burned at stake for homosexual affairs. Some men were hanged or whipped during the Napoleonic Wars in 1816 for engaging in "unclean" deviant behavior. General George Washington himself dismissed an American soldier in 1778 for homosexuality (Webley).

The U.S. Articles of War of 1916 explicitly prohibited homosexuality in the military (Webley, 2010). The service system developed procedures of detecting and excluding suspected homosexual draftees from the service. These procedures isolated feminine body characteristics, effeminacy in dressing, manners and an expanded rectum. Based on these criteria and procedure, more than 4,000 of the 12 military men were eliminated from the ranks at the end of World War II for being gay. Homosexuality was even used by those who wanted to avoid getting drafted for the Vietnam War. During his 1992 presidential campaign, then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton vowed to lift the traditional ban on gays in the military. Senior military officials and the general public opposed him. This was one of the first issues he confronted as President. Congress passed a bill to ward off visibly gay men and women from the military. Those who would keep quiet about their gender orientation were allowed if they kept quiet about it - hence the phrase "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuality in the military in 1993. Draftees were no longer asked about their sexuality in recruitment forms and interview. But officials continued to investigate those in the ranks. The result of investigations led to the dismissal of more than 12,000 service members since 1994 on the basis of their sexual orientation (Webley).

Government Policy and Action

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was a compromise between the government and draftees who showed a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts (Burrelli & Feder, 2009). Homosexuality has been deemed as risking the high standards of morals, good order and discipline and cohesiveness. Under the policy, service members could not be asked about or whether they had homosexual leanings. But discharges from the military on account of homosexuality were declining before 1993, but took a turn and began to increase after 1993. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v Hardwick that year that the military could dismiss a service member for overt homosexual activity. But the Court's 2003 verdict in Lawrence v Texas overruled it by declaring a Texas law unconstitutional to prohibit sexual acts between same-sex persons. In addition, contention remains on the constitutionality of discharging a service member on the sole basis of homosexuality (Burrelli & Feder).

Many colleges, universities and high schools have set up rules to protect homosexuals from discrimination (Burrelli & Feder, 2009). They bar military recruiters from the campus and drop Reserve Officer Training Corps or ROTC as a consequence of the policy on homosexuals in the military. But new laws bar federal funding to campuses, which disallow access to military recruiters. The Supreme Court, on March 6, 2006, reversed the ruling in Rumsfeld v Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights. Instead, it upheld the constitutionality of Solomon Amendment. This amendment prohibits certain federal funding to higher educational institutions, which deny the access. Furthermore, many members of Congress have been inclined to amend the "Don't Ask" policy. At least one bill -- HR 1283 -- would repeal the law and replace it with a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of gender preference. This bill was introduced in the 111th Congress (Burrelli & Feder).

Congressional Battle Continues

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are taking the initial steps to end the ban by appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (Thompson, 2010). Admiral Mullen wants to open the services to all Americans, who include gays, as long as they observe good order and discipline. This position significantly deviates from that of his predecessor, General Colin Powell, 17 years ago when former President Clinton attempted but failed to end the ban. Their supporters are fighting for its inclusion into the 2011 defense budget, which Congress will work on in the coming months. Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, a supportive advocacy group, expressed optimism that this could happen on account of a huge shift in public opinion, especially in the young. Those who opposed the lifting of the ban believed that homosexuality should not be incorporated into a successful war-fighting culture (Thompson).

Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen will reduce the impact of the existing policy (Thompson, 2010). One way is by applying pressure on investigations of suspected gay troops, which will reduce the number of dismissed gay service members. The Pentagon will also create a civilian-military task force to survey their attitudes on serving. This is seen as paving the way to the scrapping of the policy. About 1,000 men and women are dismissed from the military every year for being gay. Some of them possess exceptional technical or personal skills. If the "Don't Ask" policy is lifted, it is likely that current fears about allowing openly gay men and women would be unfounded (Thompson).

The Need for Action

A recent ABC survey showed that 75% of Americans favored openly gay men and women to serve in the military (Roberts & Roberts, 2010). Only 44% expressed favor during the Clinton administration. Observing the trend, Dick Cheney remarked that things had changed and that the change is a generational question, different from that of 20 years previous. Cheney also observed that young people today are more open to gay rights, such as gay marriage. Two-thirds of those surveyed, who were below age 30, approved of legalizing gay marriage. They were more exposed to openly gay people than their elders. The survey also said that 63% of them had a family member or friend who was gay. Many gay men and lesbians take huge personal and professional risks by exposing their gender orientation. In so doing, they set an example to those who come after them in dealing with society. But this is not so in the military (Roberts & Roberts).

Admiral Mullen viewed the scrapping of the current Don't Ask policy as a matter of integrity (Roberts & Roberts, 2010). The policy forces the service member to tell a lie in order to defend the country and their fellow citizens. But some members of Congress resisted the effort. The strongest opposition came from the Democrat chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton. Skelton and other opponents chose to ignore the evidence offered by the experience of at least 30 countries on the issue. These countries included most of NATO allies and Israel. Gay men and women in the military in these countries openly admitted their gender difference, which did not damage their effectiveness or cohesion. The only change Colin Powell observed after the 17 years of the "Don't Ask" policy was that these men and women fearlessly showed the world what they were (Roberts & Roberts).

Optimizing Ethical Decision Processes

When former President Clinton directed the then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin to come up with a policy to end sexual discrimination in the military in January 1993, Secretary Aspin turned to RAND National Defense Research Institute for help (Rostker, et al., 2000). He asked the Institute to prepare a comprehensive analysis of the issues involved and evaluate feasible courses of action that could be taken. RAND came up with the Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy: Options and Assessment. From a broad perspective, it analyzed the policies of other countries' military forces and those of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy: Gays in the Military."  Essaytown.com.  March 7, 2010.  Accessed July 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/ask-tell-policy-gays-military/31750.