Issue Report: Gays in the US military

Should gays be allowed to serve openly in the US military? Is "don't ask don't tell" bad policy?

There is significant debate in the United States as to whether gays should be allowed to serve openly in the US military. The current policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t tell”, signed into law in 1993 under the Clinton administration, does not allow it. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” authorizes the discharge of an American soldier for coming out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Unless one of the exceptions to the law applies, the policy prohibits anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because it “would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.” The act prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. The “don’t ask” part of the policy indicates that superiors should not initiate investigation of a servicemember’s orientation in the absence of disallowed behaviors, though mere suspicion of homosexual behavior can cause an investigation. While President Bush was supportive of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, President Barack Obama promised to lift the policy and allow gays to serve openly in the United States military. This has reinvigorated the debate, which has drawn international attention, as other militaries and governments around the world grapple with similar questions.

Military readiness: Does "don't ask don't tell" generally harm or help military readiness?

Gays do not undermine military readiness

Former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen spoke against the policy publicly in early January 2007: “I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.”[1]

Rationale for military ban on gays is a shifting target

"Ban on Gays is Senseless Attempt to Stall the Inevitable"

“It’s no great secret that military studies have proved again and again that there’s no valid reason for keeping the ban on gays. Some thought gays were crasy, but then found that wasn’t true. then they decided that gays were a security risk, but again the Department of Defense decided that wasn’t so.”

"Don't ask don't tell is exploited by troops to avoid combat

US Army Forces Commander Kim Waldron reported in 2005, “The bottom line is some people are using sexual orientation to avoid deployment.”[2]

"Don't ask don't tell" puts commanders in compromising position

"The Efficacy of Don't Ask Don't Tell." Winning essay of the 2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition

“DADT also represents a unique challenge for commanders. Normally charged with knowing everything about their troops, commanders are now trying to avoid certain areas for fear of being accused of conducting witch hunts38 or looking as if they are selectively enforcing a law they have moral reservations against. Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, USN, stated, ‘Everyone was living a big lie—the homosexuals were trying to hide their sexual orientation and the commanders were looking the other way because they didn’t want to disrupt operations by trying to enforce the law.'”

Unhealthy homosexuality undermines military readiness

"Gays in the Military Debate". Human Events. October 4, 2007

“The other component of combat effectiveness is readiness, medical and personnel. In 1993, the Army’s surgeon general conceded that the homosexual lifestyle is unhealthy. A Navy study has found that HIV infections within the force have declined since passage of the 1993 ban. This has likely saved the taxpayer medical costs. It is significant that HIV positive service members, although retained in the military, may not be deployed overseas or on ships.”

Gays in the military would harm military leadership.

Gays in the military would adversely affect the chain of command in the military, as certain relationships would become less trustworthy and tensions would undermine the authority of leaders and the willingness of troops to follow.

Military should not end "don't ask don't tell" during war

"EDITORIAL: Please don't ask again." Washington Times. October 13, 2009

“The most recent Military Times survey showed that 58 percent of military respondents oppose a policy change, and 24 percent said they would either leave the military (10 percent) or consider terminating their careers after serving their tours of duty (14 percent). […] the White House isn’t close to having military support for ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ The Obama team could be justifiably concerned that pushing change would be seen as a dangerous distraction at a time when the president is having difficulty formulating a strategy for the war in Afghanistan.”

Military should not end "don't ask don't tell" during war

Doing so would require construction of separate bunks and lavatory facilities to prevent unnecessary tension from same-sex attraction in close proximity.”

Troop morale: Does "don't ask don't tell" harm or help troop morale, unit cohesion?

Gay soldiers do not undermine unit morale and cohesion

A 2006 Zogby International poll of military members found that 72% of respondents who had experience with gays or lesbians in their unit said that the presence of gay or lesbian unit members had either no impact or a positive impact on their personal morale, while 67% said as much for overall unit morale. 73% of respondents said that they felt comfortable in the presence of gay and lesbian personnel.[3]

"Don't ask don't tell" undermines troop morale and unit cohesion

Kenneth Jost. "Repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' With the Presidential Pen." October 8, 2009

“Within the U.S. military, “don’t ask, don’t tell” has hurt rather than helped unit cohesion. For gay service members, the policy fosters suspicions of their colleagues and diminishes military comradeship at a time when more and more straight service members have no problem interacting with gays. But for homophobic service members, the policy contributes to a climate that encourages anti-gay harassment and ignores it when it occurs.”

Professional troops can work with gays and focus on mission

The argument that the presence of gay troops will undermine morale and unit cohesion is premised on the idea that US troops are unable to handle their emotions and maintain their professional focus in the presence of gay peers. This is an insult to the professionalism of US soldiers. As the Rand Corporation concluded in a 2000 brief on the topic: “it is not necessary to like someone to work with him or her, so long as members share a commitment to the group’s objectives.”[4]

It would strenghten relations

Gay relations, especially inside a hardened place like the military could be beneficial. In some ways, this could be analogous to the benefits of having women around men as a means of maintaining decorum. It would also strengthen honesty and trust between fellow soldiers, as gays would no longer have to lie about their sexuality.

Armies globally show viability of gays serving openly

Om Prakash. "The Efficacy of Don't Ask Don't Tell." Winning essay of the 2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition

“There are potential lessons to learn from other countries that have lifted the ban on homosexuals serving openly. There was no mass exodus of heterosexuals, and there was also no mass “coming-out” of homosexuals. Prior to lifting their bans, in Canada 62 percent of servicemen stated that they would refuse to share showers with a gay soldier, and in the United Kingdom, two-thirds of males stated that they would not willingly serve in the military if gays were allowed. In both cases, after lifting their bans, the result was ‘no-effect.’44 In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.”

Armies globally show viability of gays serving openly

The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law (Federal law Pub.L. 103-160 [10 U.S.C. § 654].) prohibits anyone who “demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts’ from serving in the armed forces of the United States, for the following central reason: “One of the most critical elements in combat capability is unit cohesion, that is, the bonds of trust among individual service members that make the combat effectiveness of a military unit greater than the sum of the combat effectiveness of the individual unit members. . . . The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”[5]

Minority of troop discomfort with gays is enough to damage cohesion.

The 2006 Zogby poll that cites a majority of US troops expressing comfort with gay troops, also shows a sizable minority of nearly 28% expressing that the presence of gay troops damaged their morale. Such an opposition, albeit in the minority, certainly suggests that the open presence of gays in the military will, overall, undermine troop morale and cohesion, by alienating this minority and creating a rift between it and the majority.

Gays in the military increase sex-based favoritism

Robert Maginnis. "Gays in the Military Debate". Human Events. October 4, 2007

“Sexual tensions and sex-based favoritism in intimate settings destroy cohesion, whether they involve opposite- or same-sex attraction.”

Gay activism in military undermines professionalism

John Luddy. "The Military Gay Ban: Why Don't Ask, Don't Tell Don't Work". Heritage Foundation, Executive Memorandum #359. July 1, 1993

“Political activism elsewhere in society suggests that weakening the ban would be followed by quotas and lawsuits if homosexuals were not promoted in representative numbers. This would destroy the cohesion of a military unit, and erode the military’s successful merit-based promotion system.”

Service compatibility? Is homosexuality compatible with military service?

Troops should be judged on ability, not sexual orientation

President Barack Obama said in a January 2009 statement to the Stars and Strips military newspaper, “The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve [,not sexual orientation].”[6]

Gays that keep personal lives private are compatible with military

A white female US military officer said, according to “Gays and lesbians in the military”: “I feel as long as they can perform the jobs required of them, they should be allowed in the military. What goes on behind closed doors is none of the military’s business. As long as gays and lesbians keep their private lives out of the workplace, I foresee no problems.”[7]

Gay troops have served with distinction and honor

General Colin Powell, at a Senate hearing in 1993: “[H]omosexuals have privately served well in the past and are continuing to serve well today.”[8]

Homosexuality is incompatible with military culture and service

Homosexuality is simply incompatible with the principles of military services, which include a focus on the mission, service, discipline, bodily integrity, and control over one’s impulses. Homosexuality does not appropriately reflect these principles. This sentiment was reflected in an article signed by Gen. Carl E. Mundy, Jr., a former commandant of the Marine Corps; Adm. Leighton W. Smith, a former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe; Gen. Charles A. Horner, who commanded U.S. aerial forces during the 1990-91 Gulf War; and Adm. Jerome L. Johnson, a former vice chief of Naval Operations. They wrote, succinctly, “homosexuality is incompatible with military service”.[9]

Retention: Does "Don't ask don't tell" harm or improve retention?"

"Don't ask don't tell" costs the military needed soldiers

Lawrence J. Korb. "The Costs of Don't Ask Don't Tell". Center for American Progress. March 2, 2009

“Since 1994, the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy has resulted in the discharge of more than 13,000 military personnel across the services[1] including approximately 800 with skills deemed ‘mission critical,’ such as pilots, combat engineers, and linguists. These are the very specialties for which the military has faced personnel shortfalls in recent years.”

Troops should be judged on performance, not orientation

Soldiers should be judged on their performance not on their sexual orientation. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” completely ignores performance, judging and even discarding soldiers based on their entirely irrelevant sexual orientation. A good military should be a meritocracy, rewarding good achievement and ability. “Don’t ask don’t tell” fails to live up to this notion, and surely suffers in its quality as a result.

Number of gays in military makes ban unwise

In December 2007, 28 retired generals and admirals urged Congress to repeal the policy, citing evidence that 65,000 gay men and women are currently serving in the armed forces, and that there are over 1,000,000 gay veterans.[10] Ridding the military of homosexuals would, therefore, seriously reduce the number of armed forces available to the US military and impair the United State’s ability to project its foreign policy and national security interests.

Don't ask don't tell harms troop retention

Bob Barr. "Don't Ask, Who Cares." The Wall Street Journal. June 13, 2007

“The U.S. has fired over 11,000 people under the current policy, and in the process has lost over 1,000 service members with ‘mission-critical skills,’ including 58 Arabic linguists. Researchers at the UCLA School of Law have found that lifting the ban could increase the number of active-duty personnel by over 40,000. Because the military can’t fill its slots [, it has lowered its standards, extended tours of duty and increased rotations, further hurting morale and readiness.”

"Don't ask don't tell" fosters discrimination against women

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell, And Try Not To Be A Woman". Jezebel. June 23, 2008

“Although this picture shows 1 female and 4 male former members of our Armed Forces — which is more or less the ratio of women to men in the U.S. military today — it is not the ratio of lesbians to gay men discharged from the military because of sexual orientation.”

Gays in the military undermine recruiting/retention of opponents

Letter from the American Center for Military Readiness. March 3, 2009

“When the 2008 [Military Times] survey asked how people would respond if homosexuals were allowed to serve openly, 10% said they would not re-enlist or extend their service, and an additional 14% said they would consider ending their careers. These responses from active duty members are not exact indicators, but they are significant, especially when major efforts are underway to increase the Army and Marine Corps. We cannot afford to lose almost a quarter of the volunteer force, especially among careerists in grades and skills that are not quickly or easily replaceable.”

Gays are only discharged for willfully breaking policy

Anne Hull. "How 'Don't Tell' Translates". Washington Post. June 18, 2004

“The Army says the discharged linguists were casualties of their own failure to meet a known policy. ‘We have standards,’ said Harvey Perritt, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. ‘We have physical standards, academic standards. There’s no difference between administering these standards and administering ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ The rules are the rules.'”

"Don't ask don't tell" does not actively pursue gays

Letter from the American Center for Military Readiness. March 3, 2009

“Don’t ask don’t tell was formulated in response to President Clinton’s direction to the secretary of defense to find a way to enable homosexuals who wish to serve to do so. The policy removed the question: ‘are you homosexual?’ from the uniformed services enlistment application form (‘don’t ask’); asserted that open admission of homosexuality or homosexual conduct were a basis for discharge (‘don’t tell’); and charged military leaders not to pursue suspected homosexuals without clear evidence of conduct or open admissions.”

Recruits: Does "don't ask don't tell" impair or improve recruiting?

"Don't ask don't tell" costs military gay recruits

Bruce Maiman. "Obama needs to dump 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' now." Examiner. October 12, 2009

“Researchers at the UCLA School of Law have found that the ban has discouraged nearly 45,000 Americans from joining and remaining in the armed forces. That’s an increase in active-duty personnel by more than the number of troops General Stanley McChrystal says we need in Afghanistan. Where are those supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” who want the president to follow General McChrystal’s advice?”

"Don't ask don't tell" is not harming recruiting

"Bill targets 'don't ask, don't tell'". USA Today. March 12, 2007

“Marine Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman, says nearly 11,000 in war zones. ‘We are enforcing the policy,’ he says. ‘We are not experiencing any problems with recruiting and retention.'”

Rights: Is "don't ask don't tell" inconsistent with citizens' rights?

What about African-Americans?

This is the same case as with African-Americans during the WWII. They weren’t allowed to fight in the war (only until several laws were passed). The African-American situation was similar to our situation. Just because of some fictious, bigoted beliefs, the African-Americans weren’t allowed to serve in combat, making both the nation outraged and the African-Americans frustrated. The same applies to gays. It’s also just because of some fictious, bigoted beliefs that gays can’t fight as well.

"Don't ask don't tell makes gays second class citizens

Anna Quindlen. "The End Of An Error". Newsweek. April 4, 2009

“When it became law in 1993, the policy was sold as an attempt to allow gays to serve if they did not discuss their orientation or participate in homosexual acts—that is, if they lived a life of pretense and self-denial not required of straight counterparts. Shame and second-class status were therefore built into the deal, and unsurprisingly led to a reality in which exemplary soldiers were harassed, investigated and expelled based on “evidence” as negligible as friendly banter or thoughtless gossip.”

Don't ask don't tell wrongly forces gay servicemen to lie

"‘Dont Ask, Don’t Tell’ Hurts ROTC, Too". The Cornell Daily Sun. February 14th, 2008

“[Army Col. Stewart] Bornhoft says “don’t ask, don’t tell” harms the armed forces because “A simple question of what [you did] this weekend, you can’t answer truthfully if you spent it with gay friends. It legally mandates that [LGBT service members] be less than honest and prevents them from having the same rights that other service members have when it comes to spousal benefits or housing allowances or notices to next of kin or simply kissing loved ones when you deploy to defend the country.”

Forcing secrecy on gay troops muffles their identity

Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich: “I’m intensely proud to be gay and you should be, too. Unless we state our case, we’ll continue to be robbed of our role models, our heritage, our history, and our future.”[11]

"Don't ask don't tell" punishes citizens coming-out of closet

"Editorial: Don't ask, don't tell, just act." Emerald Editorial Board. October 15, 2009

“On National Coming Out Day this past Monday, more than 80 students signed their names to a list that appeared on the back page of the Emerald. The list declared the students, along with professors, co-workers, alumni and friends, among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community. It was an act of courage, even in the mostly welcoming city of Eugene, considering signing one’s name under the LGBTQ section of the list is enough to be disqualified from serving in the nation’s military.”

"Don't ask don't tell is inconsistent with conservative ideals

"Obama needs to dump 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' now." Examiner. October 12, 2009

“The true conservative respects the principles of liberty and privacy, the principles of meritocracy, and the armed forces our nation has charged to defend it. But “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” undermines all three. […] True conservatives respect individual freedom and personal privacy, particularly when it comes to what people do in privacy of the bedroom. It’s the last place a government should be poking its nose. Anything else is nothing but an unconscionable intrusion into the private lives of American citizens.”

Testing gay rights in the military wrongly jeopardizes efficacy

Cal Thomas. "Don't Ask, Tell or Legitimize." October 15, 2009

“The military should not be a test lab. Pressure is building to put female sailors on submarines, along with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people presumably. That many heterosexuals find homosexual behavior immoral and not conducive to unit cohesion is of no concern to the social wrecking crew. […] What gay activists apparently don’t care about is the effect reshaping the military in their image would have on our ability to fight and defend the country, which, after all, is the purpose of a military.”

Gays do not have a "right" to military service

Robert Maginnis. "Gays in the Military Debate". Human Events. October 4, 2007

“The 1993 ban is premised on the fact that there is no constitutional right to serve. Thus, Congress may decide who should or should not serve. For 231 years, the US military has discriminated among potential recruits based on a variety of characteristics and behaviors, with the intent of forming the best possible force. That’s why, according to the General Accountability Office, the Pentagon discharged 59,098 service personnel for drug offenses, 26,513 for weight standards and 9,501 for homosexuality between 1993 and 2004.”

Citizens decide if gays should be allowed to protect them

Cal Thomas. "Don't ask don't tell, and don't legitimize." Salt Lake City Tribune. October 15, 2009

“The place to start is whether citizens of this country, through their elected representatives and the military leaders named by them, have a right to determine what type of service members best serve the interests, safety and security of the United States. I contend we do. The military should not be a test lab.”

"Don't ask don't tell" has been upheld in court

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been upheld five times in federal court, and in a Supreme Court case, Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, Inc. (2006).[12]

"Don't ask don't tell" forbids homosexual acts, not gays

“The Pentagon’s New Policy Guidelines on Homosexuals in the Military”. The New York Times. July 20, 1993: “Sexual orientation will not be a bar to service unless manifested by homosexual conduct. The military will discharge members who engage in homosexual conduct, which is defined as a homosexual act, a statement that the member is homosexual or bisexual, or a marriage or attempted marriage to someone of the same gender.”[13] In other words, the policy does not prohibit being gay in the military, but only expressions of that homosexuality.

Privacy: Can privacy and modesty rights be maintained with gays serving openly?

Privacy issues with gays in the military can be resolved

Om Prakash. "The Efficacy of Don't Ask Don't Tell." Winning essay of the 2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition

“If the ban is lifted, basic respect of privacy will be required just as when women were fully integrated into the Services. Previously, the military found a lack of sexual privacy, as well as sex between male and females, undermined order, discipline, and morale.32 Dorm and facilities upgrades will no doubt be required. Sexual harassment regulations and sensitivity training would need to be updated, and guidance from leadership would be necessary. These would not be insurmountable obstacles.”

Gays held to same decency standards as others in military

A white male officers said, as quoted in the book “Gays and Lesbians in the Military”: “Gays should be held to exactly the same standards of propriety and public behavior as every one else – public or indiscreet sexual behavior ought to be discouraged, whether participants are gay or straight.”[14]

Most gays will remain private after military ban is lifted

A white female officer was reported saying in the book “Gays and Lesbians in the Military”: “Most gays and lesbians just want to be left alone to do their jobs. My opinion is that most gays will remain in the closet long after the ban is lifted – they just don’t want to continue living under threat.”[15]

Gays in the military impinge privacy rights of other troops

Robert Maginnis. "Gays in the Military Debate". Human Events. October 4, 2007

“If we respect women’s need for privacy from men, then we ought to respect the same need on the part of heterosexuals with regard to homosexuals. Protecting privacy in a military with open homosexuality would necessitate recognizing essentially four sexes and would severely disrupt units.”

Protecting privacy with gays in the military is impractical

"Gays in the Military."

“What I fail to understand is exactly how the military would be expected to house openly-admitted homosexuals, in an environment where we force people to room together, without seriously violating the sexual privacy rights of the heterosexual majority, or causing major problems with morale.”

Choice: Is homosexuality a choice? Is this relevant to military policy?

Homosexuality is no choice, don't ban it in military

Many gay members of the military make the following argument as to why it is illogical that homosexuals would choose: “I wish I could decide who I fell in love with; if someone thinks I would consciously choose such a life where I am forced to live in hiding and fear, knowing the bulk of the population is against you, is just crazy. I can’t help who I am.’ ‘Why would I choose to suffer like this?’ Ultimately”[16]

Gays make an immoral choice the military need not tolerate

Many argue that homosexuality is a choice, rather than an inherent trait that warrants protection and toleration. It would follow from this that the military is not obligated to accept or tolerate gays, or gays serving openly. One white female US military officer was quoted in the book “Gays and lesbians in the military” as saying: “It is a moral choice – people aren’t born homosexual, they choose (though some can have some tendencies – they can be cured). It is a sin.”[17]

Morality: Is homosexuality moral? Should this drive policy?

Gays are natural not immoral, should be accepted in armies

"Gays in the US military." Religious tolerance

“In the past, gays and lesbians were not permitted in any of the armed forces in the West. Most countries have abandoned their anti-gay policies in recent years, as mental health professionals determined that a homosexual orientation is fixed, and unchosen, a normal and natural orientation for a minority of adults, and not a mental illness. Among the armies in the Western industrialized world, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the UK allow gays and lesbians to serve freely.”

Individual prejudice should not drive military policy

C. Dixon Osburn, who heads the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay advocacy group in Washington, said in March 2007, “General Pace1s comments are outrageous, insensitive and disrespectful to the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops now serving in our armed forces. […] As a Marine and a military leader, General Pace knows that prejudice should not dictate policy. It is inappropriate for the Chairman to condemn those who serve our country because of his own personal bias. He should immediately apologize for his remarks.”[18]

If "immoral" gays banned from military, ban adulterers too

A white female military officer was quoted in the book “Gays and Lesbians in the Military,” as saying: “About moral choices, let’s not let people who have had premarital sex or an affair be in the army either!!! Then there would be no one protecting our country. And bible bashers need to reread the section that says he without guilt should cast the first stone.”[19]

Gays in military inevitable; lift ban sooner than later

Barry M. Goldwater. "Ban on Gays is Senseless Attempt to Stall the Inevitable"

“The country and the military know that eventually the ban will be lifted. The only remaining questions are how much muck we will all be dragged through, and how many brave Americans like Tom Paniccia and Margarethe Cammermeyer will have their lives and careers destroyed in a senseless attempt to stall the inevitable.”

US military should not condone immoral homosexuality

Marine General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a March 2007 interview with the Chicago Tribune, “I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.”[20]

"Don't ask don't tell" maintains modest sexual values

Elaine Donnelly, president of the non-profit Center for Military Readiness which supports continuing the ban: “The law respects the power of sexuality and the normal human desire for modesty in sexual matters.”[21]

"Don't ask don't tell" preserves US military values

Cal Thomas. "Don't ask don't tell, and don't legitimize." Salt Lake City Tribune. October 15, 2009

“The gays in the military and gay marriage issues are part of a broader attempt by liberals to restructure society. Social activists despise biblical morality (which heterosexuals could use a little more of, too), traditional values that have been proven to work when tried, and numerous other cultural mores. This is not an opinion. It is also not a secret.”

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