By David Small, Communications and Air Force Affairs Director
At its convention in February, the members of the Reserve Officers Association will review a number of its legislative resolutions, which make up its priorities on Capitol Hill. One such resolution up for debate this year is whether to renew, change or delete its resolution on the federal law regarding homosexuals in the Armed Forces. At its 2007 convention there was heated debate before passage.
Society’s acceptance of homosexuality has changed greatly over the last 60 years. A question arises on whether the military policy of allowing homosexuals to serve should be as tolerant.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has described the Military’s policy since 1993. Based on Congressional action, that year the Pentagon’s policy was updated to say “Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members, who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.”
Sixteen years have passed and a new White House administration is examining whether this policy should be updated.
Concerns are still voiced that the presence of open gays in the military impairs the accomplishment of the military mission, destroys esprit de corps, and would violate heterosexual's privacy rights. Some compare it to the integration of women or African-Americans into the military, which caused consequences the armed forces leadership had to deal with. However, the primary argument of those who oppose ending the ban revolves around unit cohesion and combat effectiveness.
An academic paper written on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has received notoriety of recent for being published in Joint Forces Quarterly’s current issue. The article, “The Efficacy of Don’t ask Don’t Tell,” written by Air Force Col. Om Prakash is a dispassionate argument that states there is currently no empirical data to support the unit cohesion and combat effectiveness argument.
There is, however, plenty of empirical data that could be had now after 16 years of this law being in effect.
Two current, active cases within the Air Force alone could provide data. The first being the case of a lesbian nurse named Maj Margaret Witt. In May, a deadline passed for the government to appeal to the Supreme Court in her case. The San Francisco court that heard her case ordered the government to prove that the presence of Major Witt was a threat to military discipline and cohesion. The case will now continue to travel through the lower court appeals process.
A second case that could provide data is the case of Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an F-15E Weapons System Officer currently assigned as the assistant director of operations for the 366th Operations Support Squadron at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. His case is one of the first being considered under Secretary of Defense Robert Gates dictum that perhaps there is a more compassionate way to interpret the law for individuals who didn’t tell and abided by the law but are outed nonetheless.
Other examples of notoriety exist as well. Army National Guard Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran served in his New York unit for a period of time with his soldiers knowing his status as a gay man. And Army Sgt. Darren Manzella who came out on 60 Minutes served for over 18 months out of the closet, even deploying as a medic to the Middle East during that time.
Many people who have served over the last two decades can probably share stories about serving with openly gay individuals. Most would be supportive, but some would be adverse, which highlights the mixture of opinions on whether openly gay people should be allowed to serve.
DoD reports that nearly 12,000 troops have been dismissed under the policy approved by President Clinton in 1993. Discharges peaked at 1,273 in 2001 and have fallen sharply since the war began. Many speculate that the needs to deploy qualified Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airman have outweighed the urgency to discharge members over sexual preferences.
Twenty-five western countries have no restrictions on professed homosexuals in their militaries, so the question is why a prohibition should exist for the United States?
“We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country," President Barak Obama said in a speech to the Human Rights Campaign. “We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage, especially when we are fighting two wars.”
Secretary of the Army John McHugh told Army Times that the Army would be ready to lift the ban on gays serving openly if both Congress and President Obama decided to repeal "don't ask, don't tell”. But he added that gays might be allowed to serve in some units but not others.
A 2006 Zogby International poll of military members found that only 26% were in favor of gays and lesbians serving in the military while 37% opposed gays and lesbians serving, and 37% expressed no preference or were unsure.
Would enlistment of openly gay serving members help or hinder the military’s mission? This blog will allow you to share your opinion. We also encourage you to join other ROA members at the National Convention February 7-10 in Washington D.C. to join the discussion on the future of ROA’s resolution 07-26 as well as other issues.