Individual freedom is so treasured in the United States that intensive and protracted discourse on all public matters is not just inevitable, but a distinct strength of the nation as well. Homosexuality, because of the strong polarization between conservative views based on 19th century values and 21st century perspectives, arouses unusual passions in the country, and the movement towards equal rights for gays and lesbians is not to be denied (Rimmerman, Wald, and Wilcox, 2000) by any significant shade of opinion.
It is now almost 300 years since the first soldier was dismissed for homosexuality in North America (Rimmerman, Wald, and Wilcox, 2000). The U. S. Constitution allows discrimination against homosexuality to this day, and the Congress has given this fiat legislative validity through Code 654 (Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces, 2006). A 1993 amendment, which is known popularly as don’t ask don’t tell, has led to an unsatisfactory state of affairs, going by recent surveys of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (New @ The Center, 2007).
The numbers of personnel dismissed on grounds of homosexuality has actually risen after the 1993 amendment (Burrelli, 2006). The compromise, which prevents recruiters from asking about sexual orientation, but which permits dismissal for open declarations of homosexuality, leaves no section of the armed forces or of civilian influencers satisfied (Belkin and Bateman, 2003). No one can deny that military service is unique. Cohesion, discipline, and privacy, are cited as principal drivers by proponents of homosexuality bans in the military (Belkin and Bateman, 2003).
However, 23 other countries allow homosexuality in their armed forces, and though some such as Israel are reported to segregate homosexuals from certain tasks and combat situations, none of these nations have faced any serious deterioration in their states of defense preparedness after inducting admitted homosexuals. This document examines the political, social, and budgetary connotations of homosexuality in the U. S. military, after an elaboration of the present policy in this regard, and concludes with suggestions and observations about the future.
Present Policies U. S. Code 654 authorizes Congress to make rules of military service (Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces, 2006). It is not a constitutional right to serve in the armed forces. The need to prevail in combat is paramount. Individuals who choose to serve in the military, and who are selected to do so, are expected to make sacrifices in the interests of morale, cohesion, and discipline. Military life is distinct from civilian life, and standards of conduct extend for all 24 hours of the day, even when troops are off-duty.
Living conditions are Spartan, and normal privacy rights may be superceded. Homosexuality is not permitted, and personnel may be dismissed unless a homosexual act is considered to be impulsive and not likely to be repeated. Though the law is unequivocal in its opposition to open homosexuality in the military, troops have never been free of this sexual orientation. The first case of a soldier being drummed out because of sodomy dates back to 1778 (Rimmerman, Wald, and Wilcox, 2000).
The first Naval report of homosexuality, and formal action against it, was prepared in 1919 (Bellkin and Bateman, 2003). Homosexuals were not allowed to serve during World War II. The present Policy dates back to 1993 and is termed as don’t ask don’t tell. It prevents open enquiry or discussion of homosexuality, though such personal preferences are considered inimical to unit discipline, cohesion, and order (Burrelli, 2006). It is essentially a compromise on a poll promise made by President Clinton to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the armed forces.
Lawsuits against segregation moves have been behind legislation (Belkin and Bateman, 2003) Surveys show that the military elite is against open admittance of homosexuals though civilian elites and the general public favors admitting open homosexuality in the armed forces (Belkin and Bateman, 2003). However, the policy has never excluded homosexuality in reality, and does not do so even in its present form; homosexuals have and can serve with distinction (Herek, Jobe, and Carney, 1996).
The present policy is based on the notion that homosexuals display a personality type which is inimical to troop discipline and order (Belkin and Bateman, 2003). Cohesion and privacy concerns are also major concerns of those who support the present policies. However, many of the 23 nations which allow homosexuality in their armed forces are allies of the United States. A 1957 Navy report has established that homosexuals are neither sexual predators nor security risks (Belkin and Bateman, 2003).
There are therefore many grounds on which one may challenge the present policies, though the U. S. justice system has held that the Constitution allows dismissal on grounds of homosexual conduct (Burrelli, 2006). Overwhelming Congressional support is required to change the Constitution and to permit open homosexuality in the U. S. military. The Political Environment Political processes abhor issues of significant divides between large and influential sections of voters. Homosexuality in the military is such an issue, with equal concerns for individual rights and for home land security.
Political gain is nearly impossible on this fractious front, and hence parties and leaders can only actively take up sides on this issue at their peril. Compromise and the status quo are most tempting whenever homosexuality in the armed forces tries to occupy center stage. It is however very difficult to brush this issue aside to the margins of public attention. Gays and lesbians are vociferous parts of the U. S. electorate, and will not allow attention to be diverted from the matter of allowing open homosexuality in the U. S. military.
They also contribute handsomely to Presidential campaigns (Lowi, 2004). This forces politicians in the national arena to take sides in their favor, though the military establishment has largely remained opposed to homosexuality until now. Though homosexuals have gained a prominent national voice only during the last years of the 20th century, homosexuality in the armed forces has a long history (Belkin and Bateman, 2003). Reports of action against homosexual acts by troops, date back to before the United States was formed (Rimmerman, Wald, and Wilcox, 2000).
Even the Second World War was fought and won without homosexuals, who were deemed to be mentally unwell! U. S. law is unequivocal in prohibiting this sexual preference in the military to this day. The views of the military are a primary stumbling block in the way of change. Some ex-Generals have begun to speak in favor of change, but most surveys show military personnel to favor continuing bans of homosexuality. The military does not always openly acknowledge the issue, but it has been extensively researched and documented.
Lawsuits against segregation moves have been behind legislation (Belkin and Bateman, 2003). Defense and security are such over-riding and sensitive concerns that politicians cannot counter arguments with respect to privacy in close living conditions and to the need for cohesion in fighting units, on their own. There are scientific studies to show that cohesiveness depends on clear military objectives rather than on the sexual orientation of individuals (Belkin and Bateman, 2003).
There is also the fact that military allies of the U. S. have allowed homosexuality in their ranks without major problems. Other studies show that homosexuality, to the extend that it exists under wraps in the military, has not diluted effectiveness, diligence, or fighting abilities (Herek, Jobe, and Carney, 1996) though heterosexuals may be loathe to admit it. However, the prevailing view in the armed forces establishment has been rather strongly in favor of continuing the official ban on open homosexuality.
The post 9/11 scenario has heightened inabilities of political movements to counter stands taken by the military, no matter how contrary they may seem to civilians. There have also been reports that the Israeli authorities have had to exclude their homosexuals from certain duties and tasks. The experience with the present policy of don’t ask don’t tell has not been positive during the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and further provisions against homosexuality may also surface after these theaters of war close (New @ The Center, 2007) depending upon how the survey results are interpreted.
Presidential records speak volumes about political processes as effective instruments to bring sexual equality in the armed forces. Gay rights groups were amongst the largest and most generous contributors to the campaigns of Clinton (Lowi, 2004). Though there was a specific poll promise to allow homosexuals to openly serve in the military, the 1993 don’t ask don’t tell compromise was the weak end result. Recruiters cannot ask questions about sexual orientation, but open acts of homosexuality can lead to dismissal (Belkin and Bateman, 2003).
Significant numbers of personnel continue to be dismissed from service for displays and acts of their personal sexual orientation, regardless of their professional competencies and dedication. Presidential candidate Kerry, who has served the military, has been attacked for support to homosexual causes by bodies representing military personnel (Issues: Gays in the military, 2007). This has happened even though support for homosexuals is not insignificant (Lift the Ban, 2007). It must deter future candidates to take up cudgels on behalf of homosexuals in the armed forces, after considering such track records!
In any case, Presidencies have to set priorities in agendas of promises (Lowi, 2004); pragmatism will determine moves on homosexuality, rather than ideological convictions. We may therefore witness continuing dilution of any pre-poll promises which donators to campaigns are able to ensure. Other candidates, who support the majority view of serving armed forces personnel, are likely to quote homeland security concerns against any moves to liberalize conditions for homosexuality in the military. Clearly, a political initiative in favor of homosexuals cannot be expected from a Presidency in the near future.