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Lively discussion on gays in the military

Posted By Uncle Jimbo • [November 30, 2005]

Double Secret Probation Update 28 Jan: Andrew Sullivan has linked here and I think you will see what he promised:

If you're interested in hearing a frank, smart, honest discussion of the gays-in-the-military issue among actual soldiers, gay and straight, then click here.

Well you're here. I started a new post and thread for comments here for folks joining now.

Again, for clarity, Uncle Jimbo started this ruckus not Matt/Blackfive. I figured a piece supporting removal of the ban against gays in the military would spark a lively debate and we got one.

UPDATE: One point I haven't made is that the policy prohibiting gays is not due overriding special consideration because it is the status quo. We are not judges looking at Stare Decisis, we are citizens determining the composition of our military. The prohibition was based on an idea that openly serving gays would undermine readiness, but I am unaware of scientific evidence supporting this assumption. If it exists, and is credible and current, then I would change my position. If it doesn't then we should look at this decision from the perspective of what best serves America, and we have pretty strong ideals against discrimination. If there is no proven need to ban homosexuals then shouldn't the default position be inclusion, and the burden of proof on those who wish to exclude?

Personal beliefs, religious beliefs, anecdotal evidence and anything beyond credible proof of harm to readiness have no bearing on a decision about an institution that serves and ought to be composed of all Americans fit and desiring to serve.

ORIGINAL POST

The main point of contention is the simplest, yet most difficult to resolve. Does the mere presence of openly gay troops undermine morale, camaraderie, and esprit de corps?

My view is that since there are currently a number of gay troops and little difficulty due to their presence, there is no need for the ban. We have effectively progressed beyond the point where most members of the military even care about sexual orientation in any way that would preclude them working side by side with gay people.

The opposing view is one I probably would have argued 10 years ago, and the first thing I would point out is that it is absolutely not a hater-based or homophobic argument. It is a pragmatic view that sexual tension of any sort undermines the bond needed to form a cohesive combat unit. The homophobic charge resonates to me with as much import as the chickenhawk one, reasonable people can differ without a need to belittle them. The most effective and diligent opponent of removing the ban was Chris Roach, who writes the Man-sized target blog at AFF's online mag Brainwash. He puts out the main reasons detailing the difficulties this could cause and defends them well in the ensuing discussions, which I have excerpted after the break.

I would like to note that I received a number of emails similar to this from Rachel, a college student working on a military R&D project:

"I'm reading the comments on the post at blackfive about gays in the military, and have to say I'm stunned at how civilized the discussion has been.  While I was thinking this, I also thought that this is one of the things that makes me happy I live in the US.  I feel that I am seeing a rational discussion of both sides of an issue that hasn't degraded to name calling and spiteful comments.  Oh there may be a hint of snark here and there, but it is within some invisible, magical boundary that is keeping the conversation from turning into a cat fight."

Amen to that sister. When I wrote it I hoped we could air the issues and see how they play today, using the smart folks who read and write in the blogosphere to tighten up my own opinions. Having heard and digested the thoughts of many I still believe it should be changed, but have a better feel for the specifics necessary to make it happen.

Let's start with Chris Roach's opening gambit (I have cherry-picked from the comments, mostly the first half of the discussion, the whole thread is here:

  ROACH

"Anyone who has served can relate to stories of female soldiers who can't carry their weight, who engage in fraternization (both within their unit and sometimes to their chain of command), who are nondeployed for medical reasons or preagnancy, and worse....Our military is more Southern, more conservative, more religious, and more "macho" than the country at large. While some soldiers, no doubt, would work fine with gays, many would not. They would not for the same reason we wouldn't want our wives and girlfriends taking showers in front of a roomful of men; the possibility of sexual attraction and sexual tension undermines the bonds of camraderie and *brotherly* love needed for true unit effectiveness.......And let's consider what ridiculous images this would require. Gay men hugging and kissing in uniform before deployments, on base, and in public. Benefits for gay partners. Forced "Gay sensitivity" education classes on top of the endless BS classes on everything from Roth IRAs to Gender Sensitivity that soldiers must now endure.....Finally, many of us in this country think it's wrong to be gay. It was illegal in many places until recently....The military is supposed to embody an ideal of selfless service, physical courage, and support for the broader society"

One of the main problems lies in perceptions of how well females have been integrated into the military, and how disruptive their presence has been. There have certainly been instances where tension caused by sexual relationships has degraded unit cohesion, but existing regulations already deal with this, and we need to ensure they are properly designed and enforced. Adding gay troops doesn't change much, as gays are no more attracted to straights than the flip side, so the only problem would be if two gay troops had a relationship that constituted fraternization, and that is already proscribed.

Regarding gay men hugging prior to deployment, who cares. We let ugly people kiss, so if you don't like it don't watch it. The issue of benefits for partners and whether they would accompany on overseas tours is a sticky one, but I think it could easily follow the civil union path and mirror the way corporations deal with the issue.

The military has always had a significant number of old-fashioned men exemplified by the quote Greyhawk flies over the Mudville Gazette "Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf" Roger that, but honestly, I don't really have a preference as to who does the standing, as long as the violence is righteous. Women, gay folks, OK as long as they can put lead on target I'm cool with them. If they can pull their weight, then they can keep my sorry ass safe in my cozy bed.

MAJ MIKE

"change the laws that govern the military, and you can change the membership. short of that, all the policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" encourages is for people to commit violations of lawful statutes governing conduct, and says it is OK as long as nobody finds out about it. imagine the outcry if other unlawful activities were also subject to being ignored as long as nobody found out....as it stands, DADT undermines good discipline and needs to go."

Maj Mike makes an excellent point. Gays are currently prohibited from serving, period. Don't ask, don't tell is a hypocritical work-around that insults the ability of our troops to work with the people they already work with.

SGT. B from The Gun Line

"When you really get down to it, I really don't care if one of my Marines (or sailors, or soldiers, or airmen) is gay. If they have made it through the rigors of training, and they have proven their ability as per their rank or position, I am far more interested in their ability to get steel on target than if the pin-up they have on the inside of their helmet has the same plumbing as mine. I've got far more important things to worry about..."

Straight up.

JOEL LEGGETT

"The reason for not allowing gays to serve openly in the military has nothing to do with rejecting tolerance or blind discrimination against homosexuals. It has everything to do with military effectiveness. The simple fact is that if you allow openly gay men to serve in combat units you will be opening the door to the sexualization of the battlefield. Openly gay men serving together in combat units will naturally result in romantic relationships between members of the same unit. It is not homophobic to recognize this fact since we have seen the same thing happen in garrison or rear area units with men and women."

Yes, but regulations do prohibit this type of fraternization already. The experiences of extended mingling of the sexes during operations in Iraq has highlighted a need to evaluate and improve these rules and their enforcement. Adding gay troops to this while evaluating fraternization as a whole makes sense.

SYNOVA

"As for gays serving openly undermining good moral values... guys, I served a couple years at Clark. Don't you try to tell me about good moral values. It's not going to fly. Not that a person needs to be at a place like the PI to get a good clear view of just how much moral misbehavior is tolerated every single day.....How do you officers and NCOs deal with favorites *now*? It doesn't have to be sexual for this to be an issue. Speaking as though gays serving openly will bring a new situation into play misses the fact that it's just the same situation as exists and has forever and which the military rules and culture have been dealing with ever since when it comes to any sort of relationship from favoring a friend to favoring a lover."

True dat.

More Joel Leggett

"Synova makes the point that sexual interaction between members of the same unit and fraternization represents a discipline problem and implies that, at least at Clark Air Force Base, this happens with more regularity than we would wish. However, she fails to understand why such behavior would constitute a more dangerous situation when transplanted to combat units in combat. Although I am sure that the support role she performed in the Air Force was important I am equally sure it did not involve the same danger, stress, and violence regularly experienced in combat units"

You guys had to bring up Clark AF base didn't you. I have been their dozens of times and I'm pretty sure 1st Special Forces Group qualifies as a combat unit. We had numerous individuals whose preferences were well known, joked about, and to many foul. These straight perverts were comrades and brothers in arms and we all subscribed to a don't show me and I won't look policy. I see no difference with ignoring what gay troops do in the dark.

Patrick/Gryph from Gryphmon

"Most estimates of the number of gays or lesbian in the country at large is at about 2-3%. That is the natural bar of what the military can reflect. To exclude gays and lesbians is the real, actual social experiment, because it does not reflect the population at large.

Gays and lesbian here are not asking to be treated any differently from anyone else. They are not asking for "special rights". It is in fact the the military itself that is making "special" categories of soldiers, not gays or lesbians."

More Gryph

Don't ask, Don't tell" Does not exist.

In reading the comments above, I realized that most people seem to think that the military "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"(DADT) is the policy that allows gays to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation a secret.

The problem with that assumption is that its completely false. There is no such policy. It's illegal for gays and lesbians to serve in the military, whether in or out of the closet. Period. They are not eligible to serve in any way. This is the law as passed by Congress, and it's very clear on the subject.

There is however an administrative policy that forbids asking what the sexual orientation of someone in the military is. Unless you are suspicious that they might be homosexual.

In which case, it's perfectly acceptable to start an investigation on the subject."

Unless a credible case can be sustained that gays will actively degrade readiness, there is no reason they should be excluded. I believe it would rapidly become another "so what" issue. Yes there would be some bitching, but remember "If the troops stop bitching, check for a pulse". There is too much else going on to focus on what someone does away from work, and we have established that workplace or foxhole romances are proscribed.

Fallschirmjager

"So, what about gays in the Military? Well, yup, I've known some gay troopers, (and gay officers) and to be honest, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been effective in mostly preventing the behavior (that's what we're talking about here) that would be prejudicial to the good order, morale, discipline of the unit. But is it the right one? The one that is consonant with the characteristics of moral courage, fairness, and professionalism that are part and parcel of the Officer and Non-Commisioned Officer Corps?"

Another good point about a hypocritical policy. If behavior is the concern, then effective enforcement of regulations should cover that.

JBrookins of JB's Sanctuary

"Don't ask don't Tell - don't work. Gays in the military would be a non-issue if those with agendas outside the military would leave it alone. No need for restrictions."

JB out. He does such a good job with one-hundredth of my word count.

Former Marine says

"Heh, I can't help but get a good laugh over the myth that grunts are somehow more "religious" and "moral" than the average American. When I hear about grunts trading pictures of dead Iraqis for access to free porn on nowthatsf***edup.com, all I can honestly say is - "yeah, that's the Corps I remember" not the Jesus Warriors right wing America wants to pretend defend this country."

I don't think any unit would really want to stand on the morals of any one of it's members, and yet we have still managed cohesion.

Senor Lechero

"But I do have a question for you UJ (or anyone who agrees with you)....you said "Whatever need their once may have been for this prohibition, it has long since passed.".....Don't you think such absolutist comments shut down the possiblity for debate?

Almost everyone I know thinks gays should not serve at all (don't ask don't tell was a compromise Clinton made). While my group of friends may be limited, I know there are alot of people out there who feel the same way. You completely ignore us in your presentation.

You also said "I have heard almost no one saying the policy is correct".........that's because only the people who feel like you do are "fired up" about this issue. The rest of us feel so beat up by the gays and their agenda driven politics that we tired of "beating a dead horse".

He's got me there, I often put absolutes in place of qualified statements, my bad. I will agree that there is a feeling that a gay agenda is being aggressively pushed, Massachusetts courts and all. I think making reasonable accommodations where they make sense will rein that in though.

Brad Torgerson

"I've got something of a libertarian streak, so I am sympathetic to the plight of gays in the military. Having said this, I am also a member of the LDS church, so I believe the act of homosexuality to be morally wrong......As long as a person can maintain their military bearing, they should be good to go. This applies to heterosexuals as well, who, I think, have a much crappier track record of maintaining their military bearing while in uniform when compared to gays. Both gays and straights ought to be held to the same standards of conduct, and so long as they toe that line, execute their mission, and move out with motivation, why not let them serve?"

Don

"So have you figured out even if you were able to convince Congress to withdraw Article 125, what are you going to do about heterosexual fraternization and adultery? The advocates for the gays not only to openly serve, but to also engage in activities which are not tolerated for straights. They want privilege, not equality."

I think we have addressed that and the standards for all regarding sexual conduct could use some tightening up.

Another Patrick

"Plus,we're still a culture that sees it as deviant conduct and if it is openly accepted,might not many straight volunteers not do so?

Yes,it is unfair and yes,a gay person can make an excellent soldier,but societal culture must be considered before making this move."

This is true and we don't know if it could affect recruiting, but I hardly think this change would make the military seem to be a bastion of gay culture. The number of gays is not very large and the behaviors, i.e. gay pride parades that might make it appear so, would certainly not be allowed so I don't think this would occur. It is a legitimate concern, I just believe prevailing attitudes have moved and are continuing toward a "who cares" attitude on the issue.

KAT-Missouri of The Middle Ground

What I always find interesting is the denial of an already existing norm. For instance, the assertion that all male units bond and cohese better than mixed units that include women.

What I see is that every day, particularly in Iraq, these concepts and "accepted norms" are being torn down every day with respect to women serving. Respect is earned not predicated on sexual preference, gender or race. In the same manner that minorities serving in ever greater numbers and capacity since World War II were able to over turn, if ever so slowly, stereo types by actually performing duties that were previously thought of as beyond their abilities and effecting supposed unit morale and cohesion, women serving in Iraq have been edging down and out the stereo types forced on them for years and earning the respect of their fellows beyond their ability to type, make coffee, answer phones and patch up wounded.

Gay Patriot West has a post up discussing this discussion and is a good source for a reasonable view from a gay advocacy perspective.

In the end the question is whether our troops overall care enough about sexual orientation, to be negatively affected. It can't be answered definitively and currently we err on the side that says, we don't think they are tolerant. Since they are drawn from society as a whole (hippies, progressives and rich people excluded) I think our whole culture has changed enough to moot this point. I also think removing the ban would solidify the positive impression most people have of the military as the best America has. If we believe in freedom and liberty at home, and are willing to send all our troops into harms way to protect and spread it, then we should allow them to represent all segments of society.


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