|Let's start with Parker, who is the conservative, and wants to be sure even as she now supports repeals that she does not lose her conservative credentials. In The only reason to end 'don't ask, don't tell': military effectiveness, she begins her column by writing
Repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" may be the right thing to do, but there's only one reason to do it: military effectiveness. And just in case you did not catch it then, she ends by writing
More questions remain than can be posed, much less answered, in this space, and Gates may need every minute of the 11 months he has requested to study the issue. Whatever one's personal opinion, the guiding principle should be only what is best for military effectiveness.
In between, recognizing that she herself is a civilian with no military experience, she relies upon her brother:
"Be all that you can be" was a nice recruiting slogan, but the military really is not about you. And the right to serve belongs to no one.
Even my Marine vet brother, who survived Khe Sanh in 1968, insisted for years that gays would have been a huge problem in Vietnam. Today he says: "Gay, schmay. If he has the guts to go through the things I did, then good for him. . . . No doubt we all served with gay guys and never knew it. Gays aren't stupid and they darn sure know who is friendly and who isn't. I say leave it to the troops and forget about it."
She offers some conservative caution in the very next paragraph:
The operative words in his mellower assessment may be "never knew it," which remain central to arguments in favor of keeping the policy intact. To what extent, if any, does "knowing" affect cohesion and what, exactly, does "knowing" entail? The truth is, we don't know, and a policy change would constitute an experiment. Having offered that caution, she refers to the notorious example of the loss of Arabic linguists - a clear illustration of how military effectiveness HAS been hurt by DADT - but then, in almost a throwaway passage, give what I think is the most important lines in her piece:
Equally absurd is the notion that gays cannot abide by the rules against fraternization. There's no evidence that gays are less able to control their libidos than are heterosexuals.
Let's parse that last sentence: There's no evidence that gays are less able to control their libidos than are heterosexuals. In fact, in most situations, gays have had to demonstrate far better control of their libidos, especially those who have served, before DADT and since it became law.
I served in the earlier period. I was a Marine stationed at Quantico, a base with a higher percentage of Women Marines that perhaps any place other than Henderson Hall, the operational headquarters of the Corps. I knew a few of my female counterparts. Most had experienced the absolute sexism of many of my fellow male Marines, or should I say their arrogance: if a Woman Marine wouldn't sleep with them it was only because she must be a dyke. I heard that in the barracks. Hell, at one point I had my own sexuality questions precisely because I was friends with a couple of WMs and did not see them solely as a receptacle for my penis.
I have lived around enough people who were gay and bi- to have some sensitivity on this issue. My wife was heavily involved in the dance world. My neighborhoods of residence included Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights, both gay-friendly neighborhoods. In the Village I lived at Christopher and Gay, a very short distance from Plato's Retreat, an infamous gay hangout. And I clearly remember Stonewall.
I will return to my perceptions on this issue. But let us first examine Frank Rich, whose column is titled bluntly, Smoke the Bigots Out of the Closet. He is observing the politics. He begins
A funny thing happened after Adm. Mike Mullen called for gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military: A curious silence befell much of the right. If this were a Sherlock Holmes story, it would be the case of the attack dogs that did not bark.. Yes, there was the idiocy of John McCain, but as many have noted, his self-contradiction from his previous willingness to defer to the military is offset not only by the current support for repeal from Adm. Mullen and Colin Powell, but Rich cannot resist reminding his readers that McCain's wife and daughter appear in ads for gay marriage rights.
Moreover, most on the Right remained silent after Mullen's testimony, Rich calls Fox's coverage of the testimony "fair and balanced" and offers this dig at one of Fox's competitors:
Only ratings-desperate CNN gave a fleeting platform to the old homophobic clichés. Michael O'Hanlon, an "expert" from the Brookings Institution, speculated that "18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden" soldiers who are "tough guys" might object to those practicing "alternative forms of lifestyle," which he apparently views as weak and testosterone-deficient. His only prominent ally was the Family Research Council, which issued an inevitable "action alert" demanding a stop to "the sexualization of our military." Here I might note that it perhaps would have served O'Hanlon to recognize that never having served in the military himself, perhaps he should have offered the deference that Kathleen Parker gave to those who have served or are currently serving. As an aside, had I previously had any doubt about O'Hanlon's lack of qualification to comment on matters of national security (which in fact I didn't), this episode would have served to totally discredit him.
Of greater importance in Rich's column is his ability to explain the silence on the right to the testimony of Mullen:
The answer begins with the simple fact that a large majority of voters - between 61 percent and 75 percent depending on the poll - now share his point of view. Most Americans recognize that being gay is not a "lifestyle" but an immutable identity, and that outlawing discrimination against gay people who want to serve their country is, as the admiral said, "the right thing to do."
Mullen's heartfelt, plain-spoken testimony gave perfect expression to the nation's own slow but inexorable progress on the issue. He said he had "served with homosexuals since 1968" and that his views had evolved "cumulatively" and "personally" ever since. So it has gone for many other Americans in all walks of life. As more gay people have come out - a process that accelerated once the modern gay rights movement emerged from the Stonewall riots of 1969 - so more heterosexuals have learned that they have gay relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers and co-workers. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.
Remember these words: It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love. I will return to them in my own remarks.
Rich also examines the politics, which he argues supports repeal, using the idea of a "Scott Brown Republican" to support his case. He dissects Sen. Hatch, who after saying he is opposed to prejudice of any kind tries to defend DADT by saying that repeal would lead to a gay demand for "special rights." As Rich notes:
Such arguments, both preposterous and disingenuous, are mere fig leaves to disguise the phobia that can no longer dare speak its name. If gay Americans are to be granted full equality, the flimsy rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that lies beneath.
Rich of course uses the occasion to go much further than DADT, with a thorough examination of the ongoing trial on Proposition 8. That section, while well worth reading, I will leave to your perusal. I want to stay on DADT as my primary, albeit not my sole, focus.
It cannot be my sole focus because of course DADT is part of a larger picture which includes marriage equality. Rich is right to connect the two.
For now, allow me to quote one more sentence from Rich, the first of his concluding paragraph:
The more bigotry pushed out of the closet for all voters to see, the more likely it is that Americans will be moved to grant overdue full citizenship to gay Americans.
The issue of exposing the bigotry - and the false fear - fueling many who oppose repeal of DADT (and full equality for gays) is key to my remarks. Let me remind you of two other lines I have quoted:
If gay Americans are to be granted full equality, the flimsy rhetorical camouflage must be stripped away to expose the prejudice that lies beneath.
It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.
Repeal of DADT is key if we are to move towards full equality. Here I might offer historical perspective. Truman's executive order desegregating the military was in 1948. It took 19 more years until the Supreme Court finally banned anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v Virginia (and as an aside, shortly before the end of her life Mildred Loving came out against the Virginia anti-gay marriage amendment because she viewed the discrimination against gay marriage as exactly parallel to how she and her husband had been treated).
Especially at a time when we no longer have conscription, when to fill the billets of our military we need to encourage those willing to serve, a ban against a portion of the willing does not make logistical sense. Call it military necessity, call it military readiness. On those grounds alone the ban should be repealed.
But it is more than that. It is an opportunity for those who serve with gays to acknowledge their full humanity. It will remind people that, as Barry Goldwater once put it, "you don't have to be straight to shoot straight." Bigotry that ignores that should be exposed, because it weakens our nation. And as we see the service of gays and realize their sexual orientation is an aside, as is the race of a Colin Powell, the religion of a Hyman Rickover (who had to overcome religious prejudice during his own military career) or the gender of the many females now serving with distinction, we can understand the full power of these words of Mike Mullen, that allowing gays who want to serve to do so openly "is the right thing to do."
But it is more. When I look at my students I see a tapestry that would have shocked many when I was their age. Many of my students are the product of relationships such as that of Richard and Mildred Loving - one parent white, the other black. We have a President with a similar heritage, and that kind of racial mixing is not at all unknown - in our families, my wife and I can point at one sister whose husband is Hispanic, another whose child by her ex-husband is half Native-American and thus a registered member of a Tribe, and my sister's son who with his African-American wife has two children whose "race" is identical to that of the President. At my school it is not at all unusual to see class officers whose parents have different skin colors, or to have teachers married to someone different: last year our two top students were a pair of twins whose mother is of Asian origin and whose father is Caucasian.
Many of my students date people of other skin colors. And some are involved with people of the same gender, openly, in a way that would have been unknown almost 5 decades ago when I was their age.
And we are beginning to see another phenomenon - children with gay parents. This year I teach two young women each of whom has two mothers. The young ladies and their parents are open about it. It does not affect the friendships or the social lives of either young lady.
And that brings us to perhaps the most important line in Rich's piece: It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.
Fundamental rights ... my senior Senator Jim Webb explained while running for his current office why he opposed the same anti-gay marriage amendment agaist which Mildred Loving offered this statement:
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.
Webb's words were simple, those of a Libertarian, that there were three things the government needed a damn good reason to be able to cross his doorstep and say anything about - how he prayed, who he slept with, and his guns.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.
Service to the country is something that should be encouraged. We should not put artificial barriers between that service and those others might hate or fear. That bigotry should be exposed, not allowed to distort life for the rest of us, depriving us of the service of those who are well qualified and willing to take on such burdens.
Perhaps that will help more overcome their own fear to recognize that such bigotry and fear should also not be allowed to deny fundamental rights such as marriage to anyone. Let me repeat Mildred Loving's words: I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights.
Kathleen Parker may be cautious, attempting to maintain a conservative credibility, bu even she acknowledges that if DADT is harming military effectiveness, it should be eliminated.
It is harming, and not just because of the loss of Arab linguists. Insofar as the military is not a reflection of the American dream, of the richness of our society, it will not be as effective because it runs the risk of losing support from the American people. That is an argument of military effectiveness.
Insofar as prejudice of any kind can undermine the operations of our military - be it prejudice on race, gender, religion or sexual orientation - it harms our military effectiveness. Mr. Conservative Barry Goldwater understood that even before DADT became law.
Looking back 60+ years, the idea of a segregated military may seem odd to many who did not live through the civil rights era as did I. Truman showed leadership, and helped move our nation forward. So did Branch Rickey at one year earlier, bringing Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball. Try to imagine baseball - or football or basketball - with no black players. Society can and does adjust.
We should repeal DADT. We should move towards full equality for our gay and bi brothers and sisters. The generations behind us, such as the students I teach, will eventually wonder what took us so long. Because as Frank Rich so rightly notes. It is hard to deny our own fundamental rights to those we know, admire and love.