Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ending "Don't ask don't tell" in the US military

The day when gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors and airmen will be able to serve openly is coming closer, and Admiral Mike Mullen has called for an end to the makeshift compromise under which they presently serve. In the NY Times, Frank Rich notes that this has become politically feasible as the country's mood has shifted: Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet

"Mullen’s heartfelt, plain-spoken testimony gave perfect expression to the nation’s own slow but inexorable progress on the issue. He said he had “served with homosexuals since 1968” and that his views had evolved “cumulatively” and “personally” ever since. So it has gone for many other Americans in all walks of life. As more gay people have come out — a process that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the Stonewall riots of 1969 — so more heterosexuals have learned that they have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.
But that’s not the whole explanation for the scant pushback in Washington to Mullen and his partner in change, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. There is also a potent political subtext. To a degree unimaginable as recently as 2004 — when Karl Rove and George W. Bush ran a national campaign exploiting fear of gay people — there is now little political advantage to spewing homophobia. Indeed, anti-gay animus is far more likely to repel voters than attract them. "

This of course parallels the slow shift in attitude towards slavery and, presently, same sex marriage. I'm reminded of the 2004 New Yorker cartoon in which a wife is pictured, suitcase in hand, leaving her husband and explaining "There's nothing wrong with our marriage, but the spectre of gay marriage has hopelessly eroded the institution."

Update: today's NY Times also has a column on the complex relationship of women in the military, who presently aren't allowed to have combat specialties: Women's Work
"While it may be a D.O.D. policy to keep women out of combat, the reality doesn’t match the policy. Right now, a plan is being formulated to phase out “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”, so that openly homosexual soldiers can serve in the military. If all goes according to plan, gay men will be able to serve in both combat and support units, depending on their chosen M.O.S. They will have to adhere to the same performance standards as straight male soldiers. So while we’re at it, can we phase out the policy of underestimating women? If Israel did it, why not the U.S.? Legislation like the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which aims to make sure women veterans get the services they need at home, is a step in the right direction, but it only addresses a symptom of the inequality women face in the active military. In reality, American women do engage in combat, so it’s probably time to make it a written policy. If the policy changes, maybe attitudes will too."

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