Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Military "don't ask don't tell" gay ban debate heats up in 2007


The debate over the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy for gays in the military does seem to be heating up again.

SLDN expects to present arguments to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the case Cook v. Gates (previously Cook. V. Rumsfeld) this spring. This is a case represented twelve veterans who “came out” during the current war on terror.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, John Shalikashvilli, wrote an op-ed in the January 2, 2007 New York Times, in which he suggested that the time may have come for Congress to reconsider the policy carefully. Still, his piece is overshadowed by what he sees as a pragmatic concern of military commanders, whether military units can accept openly gay members in the ranks in some situations involving forced intimacy. He believes that societal attitudes have shifted significantly during the past decade and a half, to the point that they will. Even so, there is an overall tone in his argument that cedes to the preconceptions or prejudices of others, as had the segregation of the military by race until 1948, when Truman integrated the military (well dramatized in the 1996 film “Truman” with Gary Sinese).

Congress has enormous pressures in accommodating public concerns over the appropriateness of this government’s conduct of the war in Iraq in particular, which has to be kept in perspective against other issues (like Iran and North Korea). Still, the spirit of the debate now includes a concern over the way the sacrifice of military service is being shared, with multiple callups for reservists, with the demographics of who serves, and even with a remote possibility of reinstituting the draft. All of this debate would raise the question of whether gay men and lesbians are allowed to step up to the plate and shoulder the burdens of defending freedom.

Mary Meehan will re-introduce a bill, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, to overturn “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”.

The military ban can indirectly raise serious questions about the employment of open gays in certain other sensitive areas, such as jobs requiring custodial care of non-intact people of the same gender. The reasoning (the “rebuttable presumption” and “propensity” clauses), as codified into US Code in 1993, can set dangerous precedents in free speech cases in other areas.

I have, on my own drawing boards, a novel in which the DADT policy plays an important part of the plot. It would be ironic (for me, given my own life) if it the policy could be overturned before I could get the manuscript agented.

SLDN's fact sheet on the 2005 bill HR 1059 is here (pdf format), text here (pdf)



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