Homosexuals have been excluded from our society since our country's beginning, giving them no equal protection underneath the large branch of the law. The Emancipation Proclamation gave freedom to blacks from slavery in the 1800's and women were given the freedoms reserved for males in the early 1900's with the women's suffrage movement. But everyone still knows the underlying feeling of nation in dealing with minorities and women, one of contempt and utter disgust. Hate crimes are still perpetrated to this day in this country, and most are unpublicized and "swept underneath the rug." The general public is just now dealing with the struggle of Homosexuals to gain rights in America, although this persecution is subtle, quiet and rarely ever seen to the naked eye or the general public.
The big question today in Homosexuals rights struggles are dealing with the right to be a part of our country's Military Forces. At the forefront of the struggle to gain access to the military has been Female's who have tried to gain access to "All Men" facilities and have been pressured out by other cadets. This small group of women have fought hard, and pressured the Government to change regulations dealing with the inclusion of all people, whether female or male, and giving them all the same opportunities they deserve. The Homosexual struggle with our Nation's Armed Forces has been acquiring damage and swift blows for over 60 years now, and now they too are beginning to fight back.
With the public knowledge of "initiation rights" into many elite groups of the military, the general public is beginning to realize how exclusive the military can be. One cadet said after "hell week" in the Marines, "It was almost like joining a fraternity, but the punishments were 1000 times worse than ever imagined, and the Administration did not pretend to turn there back, they were instrumental in the brutality." The intense pressure of "hell week" in the Marines drove a few to wounding themselves, go AWOL, and a few even took there own life. People who are not "meant to be" in the Military are usually weeded out during these "initiations" and forced either to persevere or be discharged dishonorably. The military in the United States has become an elite society, a society where only few survive.
In a survey taken in 1990, the United States population on a whole is believed to consist of 13-15% Homosexuals. This figure is believed to have a margin of error on the upward swing due to the fact that most homosexuals are still "afraid" of their sexuality and the social taboos it carries along with it. With so many Homosexuals in the United States, how can the military prove its exclusion policy against Homosexuals correct and moral? Through the "long standing tradition and policy," says one Admiral of the U.S. Navy. But is it fair or correct? That is the question posed on Capitol Hill even today, as politicians battle through a virtual minefield of tradition and equal rights.
Historically, support for one's military was a way to show one's patriotism, if not a pre-requisite for being patriotic at all. Society has given the military a great deal of latitude in running its own affairs, principally due to society's acknowledgment that the military needs such space in order to run effectively. The military, in turn, has adopted policies which, for the most part, have lead to very successful military ventures, which served to continually renew society's faith in the military. Recently, however, that support has been fading. The Vietnam War represented both a cause of diminishing support for the military by society as well a problem. The Vietnam War occurred during a period of large-scale civil disobedience, as well as a time where peace was more popular than war. Since the effectiveness of the military depends a great deal upon society's support, when society's support dropped out of the war effort, the war effort in turn suffered. The ultimate defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War effort only lead to less faith in the military's ability. This set the stage for society becoming more involved in how the military was run.
The ban on homosexuals serving in the military, was originally instituted in 1942. Though some of the reasons that were used to justify it at the time have been debunked since-that homosexual service members in sensitive positions could be blackmailed, for instance ("Gays and the Military" 54)-the policy was largely an extension of the military's long-standing policy against homosexual acts. At the time, the prevailing attitude was that homosexuality was a medical/psychiatric condition, and thus the military sought to align itself with this school of thought. Rather than just continuing to punish service members for individual acts of sodomy, the military took what was thought to be a kinder position-excluding those people who were inclined to commit such acts in the first place, thus avoiding stiffer penalties (including prison sentences) for actually committing them.
As society and the military came to be more enlightened about the nature of homosexuality, a redefinition of the policy became necessary. In 1982, the policy was redefined to state that "a homosexual (or a lesbian) in the armed forces seriously impairs the ability of the military services to maintain discipline, good order and morale.'" (Quoted in "Out of the Locker" 26) Essentially, it was reasoned that homosexuality and military service were incompatible, and thus homosexuals should be excluded from the military. Only in 1994 was this policy changed, and then only the exclusion of homosexuals-acts of homosexuality or overt acknowledgment of one's homosexuality are still forbidden in the military. But we must ask ourselves, why was this ban upheld for so long?
The primary reason that the military upheld its ban against gay service members was that it was necessary for the military to provide "cohesiveness." Society bent to accommodate homosexuality. The military, however, cannot bend if it is to effectively carry out its duties. The realities of military life include working closely while on duty, but the true intimacies "are to be traced to less bellicose surroundings-to the barracks, the orderly room, the mess hall. If indeed the military can lay claim to any sense of `organic unity,' it will be found in the intimacy of platoon and company life." (Bacevich 31) The military demands an extreme amount of cohesiveness, and this is very much reinforced in barracks life. You must sleep with, eat with, and share facilities with your fellow platoon members. Life in the barracks is extremely intimate. Men must share rooms together, and showers are public also. Having homosexuals be part of this structure violates this cohesiveness so the military says. Men and women are kept in separate barracks much for the same reasons.
However, the true purpose behind barring gay service members is how the individuals who are part of the military feel about them. Members of the military are more conservatively minded people, but, moreover, they are overwhelmingly opposed to having homosexuals among their ranks (Hackworth 24). To then force these individuals to serve with gays only undermines the morale of the military. And when morale is undermined, the effectiveness of the military plummets as well. The leadership of the military has always been persistent in its position-"Up and down the chain of command, you'll find the military leadership favors the ban." (Quoted in "Gays and the Military" 55). And, as one navy lieutenant put it: "The military is a life-and-death business, not an equal opportunity employer." (Quoted in Hackworth 24)
No one is doubting that gays have served in the military. Ever since Baron Frederich von Steuben (a renowned Prussian military-mind and known homosexual) served as a Major General in the Continental Army (Shilts 7), there have been homosexuals serving in the military. Even today there exists a Gay American Legion post in San Francisco ("Gays and the Military" 55). However, the general consensus is that allowing them in the service represents a rubber-stamping of their existence rather than a concerted effort to discourage it. Though the homosexual lobby often cites the fact that gays have always served in the military as a justification for lifting the ban, this sort of reasoning is invalid. There are many other types of behavior that the military has been unable to completely eradicate, such as discharge and use of illegal substances. No one would ever deny that these things happen in the military. But the point is that if they were made legal, there would be more instances of them. To use the lack of perfect implementation as a pretext for legalization is equally absurd in the civilian world: Do we legalize criminal behavior on the grounds that "people have always done it"?
Another parallel that is frequently drawn with gays in the military is that of the situation of women in the military. Though largely a male institution-"Symbolically, the military represents masculinity more than any institution other than professional sports" (Quoted in "Gunning for Gays" 44)-women have been a part of the military since World Wide II and the women's support units have been abolished since 1978 (Moskos 22). But, like that of race to homosexuality, the comparison is invalid. Women are not permitted in combat units (Towell 3679)-an exclusion that for homosexuals would be hard to implement, at best. They also have separate barracks and facilities, which would be equally as unpractical to homosexuals.
In 1994, Bill Clinton, by executive order, implemented a policy of "Don't ask, don't tell." Homosexuals can be in the military so long as they do not violate rules against homosexual acts and do not announce themselves as being gay. Already severely disliked among members of the military (Hackworth 24), President Clinton received criticism from both sides of the issue for the implementation of this policy. Members of the military were upset at the legalization of homosexuals serving in the military, and members of the gay lobby (and their supporters) were upset that a full lifting of the ban was not implemented. Many were also concerned that this violated gay service members' right to free speech, though members of the military do not hold this right.
The movement to have the ban on homosexuals in the military lifted came, for the most part, from without (society) rather than from within the military itself. The military, by and large, has always remained opposed to the lifting of this ban. But the transition of the control of the military from the military itself to the political world has been a sign of society's changing attitude toward the military. The lifting of the ban seemed not a matter of dealing with the reality of military life or an effort to create a more effective military, evidenced in such statements as "Resisting the ban is important, but so is opposing militarism" ("Cross Purposes" 157) and "the (end of) the Soviet Union would herald not just a new American foreign policy but, more radically, a new American political culture free from militarized pride and anxieties." (Enloe 24) It becomes increasingly questionable whether those who would have gays serve in the military having the welfare of their own ideals, rather than the welfare of the military, in mind when considering policy. Indeed, most of the military considers this to be the case. (Hackworth 24-25)
If the admission of homosexuals into the military causes adverse effects on the morale of the soldiers, then the debate should be re-opened there. The military's function is to protect democracy. The sacrifices associated with military service may be very great-up to giving up one's life. Excluding homosexuals from military service seems petty, everyone should be allowed to defend their country. Moreover, the politicizing of such issues undermines the military's faith in the civilian leadership that guides it. The military is quickly loosing its prestige, its traditional conservative values, and that is a good thing for most Americans. Reinstating the ban would be a gesture of utter and sheer digustedness in our military. Having homosexuals in the military is a matter of military effectiveness-not of the homosexuals' ability to perform military duties, but of the morale of the military as a whole. And, in the military, it is always the good of the whole which must be considered before the good of the individual. The ending of the Cold War and the re-definition of the military's mission does not mean that we should make the military less effective. If a policy in regards to the military does not improve its effectiveness, then it should not be implemented. But when the implementation means giving a chance to few who would like to serve out great nation, than it should be considered legal.