While the effort to repeal the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, I was a bit surprised to see this perspective on the defeat from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and a call for another vote):
"My concern is being faced with the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law being overturned with no time to prepare," Mr. Gates said. "The way we get that time most assuredly is with the legislation that's before the Congress today."
It lines up with my own take on navigating significant societal changes - try to let things evolve rather than change dramatically and artificially, and attempt to situate the changes in the popular support of the legislature when possible, as opposed to seismic court orders. Those two things taken together, I believe, produce longer lasting, more widely accepted transitions across a democratic society. That's especially important in the military subset of our society - where certain traditions and a particular culture are deeply embedded.
While I'm concerned first and foremost about the effectiveness of the military's conflict-fighting ability, I do think we've reached a point where it's difficult to defend the existing policy. I don't see sufficient proof that fighting ability would be reduced enough to warrant restricing the ability of individuals who are otherwise qualified from expressing themselves and their respective sexual identities openly. Plus, I think it's better for all involved to deal with things as they are in reality.
Quite frankly, I think the issue comes down to a rather crude crux: it's basically a desire by the bulk of those serving in the military to say, "Look, we know there are gay people in our ranks, and we're fine with allowing people to serve openly. But just don't 'abuse' that privilege by making things awkward in the showers, etc." That's not a politically correct assessment. But I think it's awfully close to the truth given my conversations over the years with a large number of friends in the military. And I use the word privilege because even if it's not fully accurate (sexuality is a fundamental part of who a person is, after all), I think that's how many people view it. Our all-voluntary military, after all, restricts inviduals in a number of ways that would not be acceptable for the civilian population.
From my own experience, I think that permitting an adult individual to express or live his or her own sexual identity is crucial to that individual's ability to live happily as a sound member of society. Forcing a person to put on a mask 24-7 for years on end leads only to problems.
Finally, as I noted in 2008: "Really, all one has to do to question the wisdom of the policy is recall The Sacred Band of Thebes. Or Alexander the Great."