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Commentary: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Be Yourself

One of the most divisive issues in contemporary American politics is the legal status of homosexuals in the military. The fact that these problems take place within one of the most powerful nations in the world is unexpected. There are various stories in the media where loyal military members, sometimes even distinguished combat veterans, are dismissed from their careers on the basis of their sexual orientation.

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by POLITICAL SCIENCE STUDENTS ASSOCIATION WRITING GROUP
Email: pssa.ufv@gmail.com

The most high profile civil rights movements have taken place in the United States; yet, in 2010, their policies regarding homosexuality are behind the rest of the world.

One of the most divisive issues in contemporary American politics is the legal status of homosexuals in the military. The fact that these problems take place within one of the most powerful nations in the world is unexpected. There are various stories in the media where loyal military members, sometimes even distinguished combat veterans, are dismissed from their careers on the basis of their sexual orientation.

This may sound strange to us here in Canada, where our military’s policy stance is “Allowing homosexual members to be open about their sexual preferences, therefore enabling them to maintain their individual identity.” This doesn’t create much of a stir at all, and it shouldn’t. It is a non-issue for us, as well as 23 of 26 NATO member states. So why is the United States lagging behind? The answer lies in the partisan nature of domestic politics in the United States.

This controversy stems from the “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy currently practiced in the States.  Instigated by Bill Clinton in the 90’s, the policy was actually a step forward from the former laws where homosexuals were not allowed to participate in any branch of the armed services.

It was created to be a half-way point; a compromise between social conservatives and social liberals. This way all lesbian, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons are able to have access to military perks, such as free education, as well as save them from discrimination and ridicule while serving, as long as they don’t openly express their sexuality.

Today, Barack Obama’s administration has to deal with the issue again as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has now been dubbed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Generally, the policy now seems out dated. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy may have been the best answer in 1993, and as strong a policy as Clinton could get. However, this doesn’t change the fact that approximately 13,000 people have been discharged as a result of this policy.

In Afghanistan, American troops work alongside other nations whose militaries do not discriminate based on their soldiers’ sexual orientation. If the United States is willing to put differing ideologies aside and work with these different countries in the “War on Terror,” why can they not do the same in their own military?

The civil rights movement brought L.G.B.T. issues to the public consciousness, but they still struggle with gaining the acceptance of American policy makers and voters. Obama wants this policy ended, as he stated in his State of the Union address and his election campaign, through legislative rather than judicial means. Basically, Obama prefers to go through Congress and the Senate rather than the Supreme Court. This is understandable and far more stable but also far more difficult.

The popular support that Barack Obama enjoyed during his election campaign has dwindled. Could it be that after the controversial bank bailouts and healthcare reform legislation, Obama doesn’t want to further alienate right-leaning Democrats and push public opinion further right towards the likes of the Tea Party? Is this really a question of military efficiency at all?

The answer is NO. Even Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said: “We would also do well to remember that this is not an issue for the military leadership to decide.”

If it’s not an issue for the military itself to decide, then it’s time that Obama pushed through the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” whether that happens through the legislature or the judiciary, before it’s too late.

Should the Republicans gain a majority in the House, the likelihood of Obama’s plan of pushing this through is slim. If “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was good enough for Clinton, then another temporary measure is needed for Obama to satisfy his supporters and make the necessary step towards ending discrimination based on sexual orientation. The judiciary seems as good a place to start as any.

The United States has the shame of being late to abolish slavery, late to accept African Americans as equal citizens, and should have learned its lesson. The “Land of the Free” would be well advised to abolish this policy before they create yet another legacy of intolerance.

For more info, contact:  pssa.ufv@gmail.com or the “UFV Political Science Students Association” on Facebook.

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