Friday, March 16, 2007

At a Chicago Tribune editorial board meeting, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace defended the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy by explaining he was brought up to believe “homosexual acts between individuals are immoral.”

It shows that something is off-kilter in American journalism and politics when — in the middle of a war — the predictable news cycle followed, with “don’t ask, don’t tell” critics branding Marine Gen. Pace as a bigot, and demanding an apology. Stop the presses: Someone in the military has issues with homosexuality. Big story?

Some Americans think homosexuality is a sin. Who knew? They even dare say as much in public. Apparently, American media believe something must be done about that. We can’t have people expressing their religious beliefs in public, now can we?

The best way to promote tolerance for homosexuals, however, is not to muzzle people who disagree. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” critics should stick to arguing the issues.

It will be a sad day in America if tolerance for gays is won because intolerance of devout Christians, whose faith tells them homosexuality is a sin, prevails. You want tolerance? Exercise it. Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, issued this how-dare-they statement: “What is immoral is to weaken our national security because of personal prejudices. Gen. Pace’s comments were irresponsible, offensive and a slap in the face to the gay men and women who are currently serving their country with honor and bravery.”

Translation: You can’t call us immoral. If you do, you have to apologize. But we can call you immoral, secure that no one in the media will ask us to apologize.

I can’t get all that exercised. As a San Francisco Chronicle columnist who supports the Iraq war, I get called immoral (and worse) every week. I don’t agree, but people have a right to their opinions.

Be it noted, Gen. Pace, a Catholic, also supported military sanctions against adulterers, whose behavior he also called “immoral.” Because there is no politically powerful lobby for adulterers, there have been no calls for Gen. Pace to apologize.

Before I continue, let me mention that I don’t like “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s a wrong-headed policy that hurts America’s national security by keeping good people who want to serve their country out of the military. A federal audit found that “don’t ask, don’t tell” has cost the military some 10,000 troops, including professionals with important skill sets — most notably 322 linguists and 54 Arabic specialists — since President Bill Clinton promoted the policy in 1993.

Just as important, a caring country does not marginalize people who, I believe, came into this world gay or lesbian. America is strong precisely because it offers opportunities to all, just as San Francisco has a unique flavor because of its history as a haven for homosexuals. I also like how some of the same people who lament that President Bush did not listen to dissenting voices on the Iraq war now argue that Gen. Pace should not voice his personal opinions. They are advocating a de-facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — but for traditional Catholics.

It’s too bad the Chicago Tribune determined that Gen. Pace’s comments on gays were more headline-worthy than his criticism that Democratic plans to hamper the troop surge could endanger the lives of American troops.

In ultrasensitive America, what you say is more important than what you do.

To the modern American media, it is worse to hurt the feelings of gay troops than it is to pass legislation that puts all combat troops at risk.

Debra J. Saunders is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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