Our military stands as our official symbol of pride and patriotism, the penultimate example of what it means to be American. By refusing gays the right to serve openly, the government is directly saying that gays and lesbians cannot be courageous, cannot be honorable, and cannot be committed. For this reason, the repeal of DADT is perhaps more important than the pursuit of marriage equality, though this is not to say a choice should be made between one or the other. How can the gay community presume to have its relationships recognized if the government responsible for them considers gays incapable of being good citizens? To deepen the insult, the methods used to implement the policy equate homosexuality with other dischargeable offenses such as disorderly conduct, desertion, insubordination, or murder.
The rhetorical foil often asserted is that gays serving openly in the military will harm moral, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline. These words paint in broad stokes a fearful picture that, for the most part, no one has bothered to challenge with the simple question, “how exactly?” The reason you have not heard specific details is because they are ridiculous. The fear is that gays, if allowed to serve openly, will rape their bunkmates if not kept in segregated barracks, will force their brothers in arms to become homosexual, and that the world will destabilize and an openly gay military will throw down their weapons in surrender.
The best argument against the repeal is that it would put “undue stress” on a military already at war, but when it comes down to it, “not right now” isn’t good enough. Those who oppose equality have provided inadequate justification as to why homosexuals should be denied the pride, the glory, or the privilege of military service. The suggestion is made that further study of how gays and lesbians will affect the military is needed. As a Marine veteran, I’m insulted by the insinuation that scientific evidence is needed to prove that I will not harm the country I devoted five years of my life to defending. However, the delay caused by further study may be an effort to gain a political advantage: to make the 2010 election a battle of the party of human rights vs. the party of bigotry. Gays may have found themselves unlikely pawns being moved forward in a game to control the center. This being said, the administration’s intentions may be less about championing gay rights and more about cornering the Party of No into debating an issue that would expose them as out of touch with contemporary America.
In the end, what is best for morale, unit cohesion, good order, and discipline comes down to leadership, and therein lays the folly of DADT. The policy mandates subordinates and commanders to keep secrets from one another, secrets serious enough to be punishable by separation. DADT is a policy that fundamentally compromises the relationship of trust between service members and their leaders, while robbing them of any untainted recourse to defend themselves from prejudice and accusation. Every day the policy stands, is another day where we poison our pool of military leaders by favoring voices of oppression over voices of openness. We can ill afford a system that perpetuates forcing voices into silence, especially when war has already stressed that system. The military machine needs not only repairs to its worn and war-battered parts, but also the principles that fuel it.
In the nation that epitomizes freedom and equality, when the call to duty is sounded, all voices should be free to proudly answer.
Writer, filmmaker, and photographer Brett Edward Stout is a Cedar Rapids native and recent graduate of the University of Iowa. He spent five years in the US Marine Corps as a Russian linguist. His first novel Sugar-baby Bridge was published in 2008. He is currently working on his second novel, entitled The Lives Between.