There has been a great deal of interest in the media in recent days about a renewed movement to strike down the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding homosexuals serving in the military. The debate, however, has not been a dialogue so much as a monologue.
It seems virtually every story written or soundbite uttered involves supporting the ability of homosexual men and women to serve openly in the armed services, but remarkably few discuss the alternative point of view. Such an important issue ought not be decided based on such an out-of-balance ratio.
Many of those supporting a repeal of the ban cite the results of a recent Zogby poll they say indicates changing trends within the military toward acceptance of openly serving homosexuals. According to the Zogby press release issued with the poll results, Rep. Marty Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat said, “These new data prove that thousands of gay and lesbian service members are already deployed overseas and are integrated, important members of their units. It is long past time to strike down ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and create a new policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve openly.”
But does the data “prove” that so many homosexual service members are deployed overseas? And further, do the poll results really indicate that those within the military would be accepting of homosexuals?
Some of the more widely repeated findings of the poll are, according to the Zogby release, that 73 percent of respondents “say they are personally comfortable in the presence of gays and lesbians,” and only 27 percent of service members who said they knew for sure a homosexual was a member of their unit “said it has a negative impact on the morale of their unit.” From these two pieces of information it appears that a significant majority of service members are comfortable with homosexuals and that a small percentage says it would be a problem. But when the details of the report are examined, a more complicated picture emerges.
As many may know, front-line combat units in the Army and Marines are virtually all male. Question 13 of the Zogby poll asked, “Do you agree or disagree with allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?” Forty percent of the men disagreed, and 39 percent of all active-duty personnel likewise disagreed. The Army had the lowest percentage of those agreeing with the question at 23 percent.
Questions 16 and 17 asked respondents if they knew of any openly serving homosexual service member in their unit. Of all the respondents, only 23 percent said yes, and of these, 75 percent said there were either one or two homosexual service members in their unit. The average unit in the military is the company, which consists of approximately 120 personnel. Therefore, in an average Army combat unit of all or mostly men there are approximately 48 soldiers who do not agree with openly serving homosexual service members, there are only 28 soldiers who are expressly comfortable with them, 42 who are neutral, and one or two homosexual members.
It is clear beyond question that the homosexual person who seeks to serve in the military believes that his or her lifestyle is perfectly moral and no one will ever convince them otherwise. What may be less clear, however, is that many of those religious persons who serve in the military are convinced that the homosexual lifestyle is immoral, and that their views on the subject are as valid as anyone’s. By lifting the ban against openly serving homosexuals in the military, therefore, we force a situation whereby unit commanders must deal with an underlying tension that must be perpetually managed, and will likely undermine their best efforts to form a harmonious, well-trained fighting unit.
How is this in the national interest? As noted in the Zogby poll, of those service members who say they are certain homosexuals serve in their unit, the vast majority reports the total in their unit to be one or two. Are we to say, in the name of fairness, that for the sake of these two or three homosexual service members — or even if it’s five or six — we will ask the 25-30 religious service members who oppose homosexuality to compromise their convictions?
What must never be compromised, however, is the singular imperative that should be used by our political leaders in determining policies within the armed forces: The only consideration must be determining which policies create the most effective combat unit possible. If policy-makers feel that permitting openly serving homosexuals will make our armed forces better than they are today — with full consideration of how their decision will impact the rest of the force — then they should lift the ban. If lifting the ban would cause disunity among the ranks and lower our war-fighting capability, then the ban must remain.
To make the decision based on any other political or social expedient would be counterproductive to the nation and could potentially compromise our national security.
Maj. Daniel L. Davis is a cavalry officer who fought in Desert Storm in 1991 and served in Afghanistan in 2005.