In some ways, the debate over homosexuals in the military is a battle of contradictions, being waged on many fronts and by many who hold highly disparate opinions.
In his Senate testimony recently, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed his personal support for liberalization of “don’t ask don’t tell” (DADT) because of the contradiction between allowing homosexuals to serve and requiring them to keep quiet about their sexuality.
His comrades in arms disagreed. Last week, the other service chiefs (Army Gen. George Casey; Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz; the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway; and the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead) essentially contradicted Adm. Mullen by expressing serious concern over any change in current policy, especially with the nation fighting two wars.
On another front, conservatives who held a press conference at the Conservative Political Action Conference sought to explain that former President Bill Clinton’s DADT compromise actually contradicts the 1993 law passed by Congress, which says homosexuality is a threat to good order, morale, discipline and unit cohesion.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, announced that he will soon introduce a bill to repeal the current law, contradicting the man who almost chose him as his running mate, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. There will be another hearing on the topic this month before the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, whose position against repeal contradicts that of the Democratic president, Barack Obama.
However, there is another contradiction that has gotten too little attention - a contradiction in the logic of those who favor opening the military to homosexuals. In one sense, they argue that sex matters more than anything; yet in another sense, they argue that sex matters not at all.
In arguing that “gays and lesbians” are being excluded from the military just for “who they are,” as President Obama and many others have done, they imply that for those individuals, their sexuality is the essential core of their identity. If you think about it, this is odd. No other group in the population identifies themselves, first and foremost, on the basis of their sexual desires and behaviors.
The monogamous and the adulterous, the promiscuous and the celibate - none of these groups identify themselves to the world primarily on the basis of their sexuality. Only homosexuals do that. When it comes to their self-identification, sex means everything.
But when we seek to examine the implications of allowing such individuals to serve in the military, we are told that sex means nothing. We are assured that putting people with sexual attractions to one another in positions of forced intimacy, sharing showers and sleeping quarters, will have no impact on people’s behavior, let alone on their “good order, morale, discipline and unit cohesion.”
Such claims simply strain credulity. Several years ago (on Dec. 8, 2004) the liberal Washington Post carried a fascinating juxtaposition of stories.
First, an Army court had overturned the criminal conviction of a male soldier for engaging in a sex act with a female civilian “in a military barracks” - and some activists were rejoicing that the decision might be a sign the military would overturn its ban on homosexual conduct. Another story indicated that a high-ranking male Air Force officer might be fired for engaging in serial “fraternization” (most of it consensual) with various women. Just below that was a story about sexual harassment and assaults at the Air Force Academy.
Those are just one day’s examples that illustrate the problems sex already is causing, even under current law and policies, among heterosexuals in the military. And those are under circumstances in which men and women who serve together remain segregated in the most intimate aspects of their lives.
Because segregation of “gay” and “straight” soldiers likely would be considered intolerable, forced cohabitation between those who are sexually attracted could only make these problems worse.
When conservatives argue that the troops will not accept homosexuality in the ranks, our opponents often misinterpret this claim. They think we are saying that American soldiers are too bigoted and unprofessional to adapt to diversity. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are saying that these troops have legitimate and well-founded concerns about the consequences of injecting additional sexual tension into the already demanding lifestyle of America’s warriors.
The reality is that sex does matter - but not in the way “gay” activists say. Homosexuals are not excluded from the military because of “”who they are. The distinction is on the basis of conduct and the propensity to engage in that conduct - not on the basis of personal identity.
But maintaining discipline in the unique, all-consuming, 24/7 lifestyle of the military has always required placing restrictions on people’s personal relationships and conduct that would not be accepted in the civilian world. That is why there are rules against “fraternization” and even laws (in the Uniform Code of Military Justice) against adultery and sodomy.
In 1993, Congress reaffirmed what has been this country’s policy since its founding - that homosexuality is incompatible with military service. Society and public opinion may have changed since then - but human nature and the unique demands of the military have not. The 1993 law should be retained for one simple reason - because sex matters in the military.
Peter Sprigg is a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.