Thursday, February 16, 2006

Don't Ask, Don't Tell How Much It Costs

In military matters, if it's not one thing, it's another. Even as our force continues to grind itself into a sand dune, runs a story on the cost of allowing gays to serve.
Discharging troops under the Pentagon's policy on gays cost $363.8 million over 10 years, almost double what the government concluded a year ago, a private report says.


Congress approved the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 1993 during the Clinton administration. It allows gays and lesbians to serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps as long as they abstain from homosexual activity and do not disclose their sexual orientation.

Homosexuals have been serving in armies and navies since long before the Greeks attacked Troy. Despite my fairly passable knowledge of military history, I can't for the life of me tell you when it became an "issue," but one thing's for sure; it's an issue now, and is likely to be one for a long time to come.

In my experience, "don't ask, don't tell" was a proverbial double-edged sword. The upside was that if you suspected a fellow service member of being gay, you weren't obliged to do anything about it. Live and let live, focus on important matters.

The downside was that if someone got outed, you were still obliged to discipline him or her under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which still outlaws homosexuality and requires, under most circumstances, that open gays be separated from service with less than honorable discharges. (There are varying degrees of severity in non-honorable discharges, but any discharge that isn't honorable isn't good.)

In that sense, I thought "don't ask, don't tell" was entirely unfair. We told prospective recruits it was okay to be gay, but if they couldn't keep it a secret they'd be out on their ears with a bad mark on their permanent records.

There's no way of knowing if we have more gays in the services now than we did before don't ask don't tell. (You can't ask and they can't tell, remember?) But no one in their right mind thinks that rescinding don't ask don't tell would eliminate gays in the military.

Is there a solution to this conundrum?

There's only one I can think of: eliminate the ban on homosexual behavior from the UCMJ.

This isn't a popular idea in very many military circles, but I think we can make a few reasonable arguments to support it by dissecting the leading arguments against it.

At some point, regardless of the branch they serve in, military members will be forced to live together in close quarters, sharing sleeping and sanitary facilities. It's probably reasonable to say that sailors and soldiers shouldn't be forced against their wills to share an open bay shower with homosexuals. But guess what: that's going to happen no matter what the policy is. And frankly, if I'm sharing facilities with gay men, I'd prefer to know which ones are gay than have to wonder about it.

Many object that allowing open homosexuality will lead to senior service members to use their rank and position to sexually prey on junior personnel. That's a legitimate concern, but it's not one that's exclusive to lesbians and gays. There's no reason homosexuals can't be held to the same fraternization standards as heterosexuals, and subjected to the same penalties if they violate those standards.

It's possible that gay service members would be subject to ridicule, ostracizing, and even violence. But the military can solve that problem the same way it solves the problem of prejudice against any minority personnel: by not tolerating it.


There is one problem with allowing open homosexuality in the armed services that I don't have a solution for. A whole lot of people who choose to join the military have a deep held belief that homosexuality is a sin against God and nature, and there's probably not much anyone can do to change their views.

Keep in mind, though, that the guy who decided In the Navy would make a great recruiting jingle was most likely a homophobe admiral who didn't realize The Village People were gay.

So anything can happen.

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