Is allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the United States’ military a wise decision? It appears that we’re about to find out. Civil rights advocates hailed Saturday’s 65-31 vote to end the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy, while some conservatives and military leaders continue to worry that the move will affect unit cohesion and put lives at risk. However, the deal is not quite sealed yet. The legislation contains an escape clause, and while it’s unlikely that the administration would invoke it, the official end of DADT is still a few months away.
Eight Republicans Senators, led by Susan Collins (R-Maine) crossed party lines to vote with Democrats and Independent Joe Liebermann to end the controversial policy. Over 13,000 men and women have been dismissed from the service since DADT went into effect in 1993. Supporters and opponents alike acknowledge that most of those who were dismissed served honorably. Fox News provided an example in Warren Arbury, a veteran of three combat tours with the Army before he was kicked out for violating DADT in 2008. “It’s one step in a very long process of becoming an equal rights citizen,” Arbury said of the repeal. “Even though this is really huge, I look at it as a chink in a very, very long chain.”
Changing the policy had become a cause célèbre among leftist politicians and entertainers in recent years. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tweeted Lady Gaga, an outspoken critic of DADT, shortly after the vote was taken, triumphantly telling the flamboyant singer: “We did it! #DADT is a thing of the past.” No doubt Lady Gaga and her fellow members of the Hollywood elite will feel much better about themselves and their country once a person’s sexual preferences are no longer officially a matter of interest or import to the United States Armed Forces high command. Yet, that’s not the issue. Democrats may love the decision, entertainers may celebrate and generals and admirals may or may not agree with it, but the only question that matters is this: how will the men and women on the front lines react?
Anyone who has been engaged in a situation that involves prolonged stress and danger understands how deep and important are the bonds that form between comrades who share the risks. That experience isn’t limited to combat. To a lesser, but still important extent, this kind of bond is a vital part of many civilian professions, like being an oil rigger, a miner or fishing in dangerous waters. Personally speaking, I spent ten years of my career climbing big industrial smokestacks, an experience that gave me a glimpse into the kind of relationships that are forged when danger lurks. But, of course, all of these sorts of jobs pale in comparison when we consider what men and women go through on the front lines. Those of us who have shared a whiff of personal peril in civilian life can only begin to imagine what it is like to serve in a squad rooting out terrorists in a Baghdad slum or chasing the Taliban through the wastelands of Afghanistan.
Pages: 1 2