It’s the right thing to do…and now we have data!

Today’s the day we can celebrate the first anniversary of the demise of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that pushed 13,000 homosexual soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines out of the armed forces of our country and forced untold thousands of others to lie about their sexual orientation in order to continue to serve.  How has the republic fared?

You’ll recall that some opponents of the repeal warned of dire consequences should we choose to stop discriminating against homosexuals who wanted to serve their country; well OK, let’s assess the fallout now, a year removed from the heat of the moment.  Nathaniel Frank today in Slate:

During the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell”—which ended one year ago this week—Sen. John McCain insisted that ending the gay ban would do “great damage” to the military, and the commandant of the Marine Corps said it could “cost Marines’ lives.” One think-tanker agreed that we’d be taking “a risk with our lives, property and freedom.” Another declared breathlessly that, “ultimately all of civilian life will be affected.” Then there was the dire prediction that one-quarter of the military, or 500,000 troops, might quit in protest.


A new UCLA study, which I co-authored with other academics including military professors from all four U.S. military service academies, has assessed whether ending the gay ban has indeed harmed the armed forces. It hasn’t. Our conclusion is that ending the policy “has had no negative impact on overall military readiness or its component parts: unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”


But we found we could go beyond that: We can also report that after the military ended the gay ban, the institution itself improved, and not just for gay people but for the overall force. Lifting the ban, we found, improved the ability of the military to do its job by removing needless barriers to peer bonding, effective leadership and discipline.

Surprised?  I’m not.  I did then and do now have confidence in the Pentagon’s ability to carry out its orders; I did then and do now have faith that most American men and women, in and out of the armed forces, believe in the American values of equality, fairness and tolerance; I did then and do now believe that the remaining barriers of prejudice are best overcome by exposure to the unknown.

And I believe that ending policies and practices that discriminate against homosexuals will have the same effect in other areas of life as it’s had for the military, because I believe most American men and women, despite the teachings of some religions to the contrary, know in their hearts that it’s the right thing to do.

Mark your civil rights calendar: the gay marriage issue could get to the Supreme Court before the end of the current term.

That’s one small step for the Pentagon, one giant leap for the U.S.A.

Today is the first day without the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, which since its  implementation in 1993 forced more than 13,000 gay Americans out of the armed forces and multiple tens of thousands more to hide their homosexuality to keep from being discharged.  In a direct, businesslike, very Pentagon kind of way, after certifying to Congress and the president that the change will not impact military readiness or unit cohesion, and after training more than two million troops about what is now expected from them, the rule simply ceased to be.  No longer do the regs support the immediate discharge of any American soldier, sailor or Marine solely over the gender of the people for whom they have sexual and/or romantic feelings.

Congratulations, America: today we took one step closer to living up to our professed ideals of justice, equality and fairness in a tolerant, secular society.

Previously on this subject:

No straight path to civil rights for gay Americans

Life would be easier to follow and less confusing to live if there weren’t so many detours.  But things happen when they happen, regardless of when we think they should have happened: witness the latest victory in the struggle for civil rights for homosexual Americans.

Legalized discrimination against gays in American society has been taking a beating and is on its way out, and with last week’s vote by the U.S. Senate to join the House of Representatives in repealing the Clinton-era law which prohibited homosexuals from serving our country in the armed forces if their sexual orientation became public, we’re one step closer to equality.  Once the bill gets the president’s signature (later this week), it’s up to the administration and the Defense Department to make the necessary changes to enforce the law.  That means things won’t change right away, but they will change.

“I don’t care who you love,” Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said as the debate opened.  “If you love this country enough to risk your life for it, you shouldn’t have to hide who you are.”

No gloating over winning one battle while the war remains to be won.  We can expect to hear a lot more thanks to a well-financed new group connected to Media Matters for America that promises to act as a “national rapid-response war room” taking on false and homophobic messages in the media and the political arena.

My happiness at the Senate vote was tempered by the recognition that so many members of Congress still found a reason to be against it—you can check the roll call vote in the Senate here, and the House here.  But big changes like this don’t happen overnight or all at once, and I try to keep that in mind when I see blog posts and headlines calling on the next Congress to reinstitute the law or ominously warning that this change will force God to stop blessing the American military (honest to God!) leading to the imminent and total destruction of our nation.  No doubt there are some with the same feeling about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I’m not going to let any of them them ruin the moment, or the movement.

Dear John McCain,

Jon Stewart’s pre-shaming wasn’t enough, so—shame on you, John McCain; for shame.  When it came to affirming the civil rights of homosexual Americans by supporting repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell,” you did exactly what you said you would not do

Dammit, it’s not a question of who soldiers are “comfortable serving with” if enforcing that prejudice denies the civil rights of other Americans.  Please tell me you wouldn’t make the same argument for white racists who are “not comfortable” serving with blacks?

This, added to your craven pandering to the worst elements of the body politic in your 2008 and 2010 campaigns, and your well-earned reputation as a man of honor, a man of truth, has at last and forever dissolved into the ether.  Although I haven’t agreed with you on every issue I trusted in your judgment and your integrity; now I can’t.  You’ve become “just another politician.”  How depressing.

Tear down this wall

This was supposed to be the last obstacle, right?  This report was to be the last gasp for members of Congress who imagine themselves, in Buckley’s phrase, standing athwart history yelling Stop, at the unstoppable sunrise of civil liberties for homosexuals in America.  Well, now it’s here; let’s see what they do.

Today the Department of Defense released its own report on the anticipated impact to military readiness if Congress were to repeal the hideously-christened “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prohibits homosexual Americans from being honest about their sexuality if they want to serve their country in the armed forces.  DOD found that, by and large, there’s no problem—you can read the reports from the major outlets:  New York Times, Associated Press, Fox News.

The House of Representatives already voted to repeal the law; some in the Senate resisted, wanting to give the Pentagon a chance to determine if changing the law would weaken our national defense.  To those senators who were betting that, surely, the men and women in uniform would object vehemently to gay men and women serving openly, and thereby provide needed political cover to affirm the ban—shame on you for thinking so little of American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The former maverick John McCain was perhaps most prominent about yielding to the military leadership on this question; a couple of weeks ago Jon Stewart bothered to remember what McCain had promised. (click the pic)

imageThe Pentagon report concedes that a world without DADT might experience growing pains, but it assures Congress that some brief discomfort is no reason to wait.  Logically, then, there’s no valid reason not to repeal the law, and any objection that the change should be delayed until it’s not so hard to implement should be answered with a reminder that the same argument was floated when President Truman ordered desegregation of the military.

Yes, this is a civil rights issue; I’ve made my case here before.  There’s no stopping it—the change is coming—and if some lame duck members of Congress who aren’t worried about re-election any more make the difference in changing this law, so be it.