Tuesday, May 25, 2010

End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by Presidential Executive Order -- Now

An Associated Press article reports that U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates has given lukewarm support for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for the American military. Secretary Gates wants to delay any legislation until after an internal Defense Department review of the policy, which involves, at least in part, surveying military personnel and families about their opinions regarding the matter of gays serving openly in the military.

With all due respect to the opinions of military personnel and their families, this is the wrong way to go about dealing with this issue. A great deal can be learned from the example of how racial segregation was ended in the American military.

In 1948, President Harry Truman used Executive Order 9981 to end racial segregation in the U.S. military, thus bypassing Congress, where the Congresspeople of the Southeast would likely have prevented legislation from passing. In retrospect, we might say that this was justified because racial segregation was and is wrong, and because desegregation should not be held hostage to old prejudices. This was not a popular move. Four years earlier, during World War II, General Eisenhower’s decision to enlist African American combat troops was unpopular even with his own Army chief of staff, as well as with many military personnel; nonetheless, it was imposed by fiat—because it was right, and because it was necessary to the war effort. (One can learn more about this chapter of our history here.)

The same logic applies to ending the ban against gays serving openly in the military. In a very real sense, it does not matter what the personnel opinions of current members of the military are. We certainly have a need for more military personnel. There have never been any data suggesting that gay military personnel are any less fit or proficient at their duty than heterosexual personnel, or that they personally cause disorder in the ranks. The only impediment to gays serving openly in the military is personal prejudice against gay men and women, which should have no bearing on national policy. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy can and should be ended by Presidential Executive Order—right now.

Perhaps some will feel offended by the thought of gays serving openly in the military. The fact is, we all have to learn that the United States of America is deliberately designed as a pluralistic society. Each of us has standards that he or she cherishes, but that are violated by others. Living in a pluralistic society means that we allow others the right to live as they wish, within the constraints of the law. This means that military personnel serve with others of different genders, races, ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Exactly the same logic applies to sexual orientation.

None of this need compromise in the slightest one’s personal or religious stance on the matter of homosexuality. For heaven’s sake: I say all this as a straight, believing and observant Mormon, married and with four children! If I can get behind ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we all can.

Mr. Obama: Please use your Executive Order power to end discrimination by sexual orientation in the American military right now. This would definitely be On The Mark.

(This post expands on a comment of mine on a news item in The Huffington Post. The original news article is available here. An archive of all my comments on The Huffington Post is available here. Readers of this blog are welcome to become “fans” of mine on The Huffington Post.)

[The photo by Lance Corporal Kevin C. Quihuis, Jr. (USMC), shows U.S. Marines from the 1st Battlion, 7th Marines, Charlie Company preparing to enter one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The photo is in the public domain, and was obtained from Wikipedia.]

(Copyright 2010 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

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