The argument for keeping black and white soldiers in separate units during World War II was that having black men serving beside white men would cause conflict and morale problems. Black men, proponents of the policy argued, could not perform at the same level as their white counterparts, and white soldiers would not want to serve so closely with men of darker skin.
The argument for keeping women out of the military was that women could not perform the same tasks as men, and sexual tension and privacy needs would cause conflict and hurt morale.
The argument for keeping gay men and women out of the military is that their presence would cause – you guessed it – conflict and morale problems. Like the earlier arguments on color and gender, the defense of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is illogical and not borne out by facts.
It’s time for President Obama to end the discriminatory and shortsighted practice. He promised to do so while a candidate, but he’s not the first to make such a promise.
On the campaign trail in 1992, candidate Bill Clinton promised to end the ban on gays serving in the military. Rather than swiftly issuing an executive order, President Clinton let Congress hold hearings on the matter. Those hearings led to the “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass” pol-icy. Critics say it is the only U.S. law that protects firing of someone for admitting their sexuality.
The policy acknowledges that gays and lesbians serve in the military, and do so honorably, but leaves them in an anxiety-ridden limbo, worrying about the possible sudden end to their careers. This is cruel. In an era when military recruiting is down, it is self-defeating.
The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group working on behalf of gays in the military, reports that about 13,000 gay men and women have been discharged since 1993 under the policy.
A good human face to put to on the issue belongs to Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach. According to The Associated Press, he won nine air medals for distinguished service, “including one for heroism the night U.S. forces captured Baghdad International Airport in 2003.” But he is “in the proc-ess of getting kicked out of the military, after an 18-year career, a year after an acquaintance told his bosses he was gay,” AP reports.
In September, Lt. Col. Fehrenbach was offered and accepted an honorable discharge, but when told he would have to affirm that he was not gay, he refused. He is now fighting the discharge process.
AP reports the White House is working on ending the ban, but it may not come soon enough for Lt. Col. Fehrenbach. It should.