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Homosexuals in the War:
Should Gays Be Willing to Serve
in a Military that Discriminates Against Them?

By RADM Alan M. Steinman, USPHS/USCG (Ret)

The fight to repeal Donít Ask, Donít Tell (DADT), the law that prohibits gay, lesbian and bisexual service members from serving honestly (openly), is primarily (officially, anyway) about combat readiness and issues of privacy (although if one takes to heart the recent comments by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, gays in the military is an issue of morality, as well Ė but thatís a discussion for another day). I like to think weíre winning this fight, as recent data show that not only do an increasing number of straight troops personally know gays and lesbians who are serving alongside them, but that a vast majority of the troops (73%) are "comfortable Ö in the presence of gays and lesbians." So much for worries about unit morale, unit cohesion, combat readiness and loss of privacy.

However, as the public is apparently becoming increasingly disenchanted with the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a new issue about gays in the military has arisen: should homosexuals serve in a military that openly discriminates against them? A number of editorials in gay publications have argued against gays volunteering for service, specifically because of DADT. And there have been gay veterans themselves who have made this argument. I, however, am decidedly NOT among them. Hereís why: if we demand equal rights as gay citizens in our society, then we must also be willing to bear equal responsibilities. And one of the most basic of these responsibilities is helping to defend our nation.

Whatever is oneís opinion about the justification for and prosecution of our current wars, it is not germane to the fight to repeal DADT. The former is an issue of politics and foreign affairs; the latter is an issue about whether patriotic citizens who happen to be homosexual can serve their country in the same manner as their heterosexual counterparts. One can be opposed to the war in Iraq, one can be opposed to the way the war has been justified, planned and fought, but itís difficult for me to understand how one can be opposed to the idea that national defense is not the responsibility of ALL citizens, not just heterosexual citizens. If one accepts the idea that we need a military for national defense, how does one argue that GLBT members need not share in that effort?

I certainly appreciate that there are members of the gay community who do not want to be part of a "war machine," particularly a war they consider to be ill-advised. And there are members of the straight majority who feel the same way. With an all-volunteer military, nobody has to serve who feels the wars are unjustified. But that is a far cry from advocating that GLBT should never serve in the military so long as DADT is the law of the land.

Our opponents in society who object to the mere mention of anything gay, let alone larger issues of marriage, discrimination, equality and military service would absolutely relish the idea that gays feel they donít need to serve in the military. I can think of nothing more likely to generate hugely negative sentiment against us in Congress, in the Pentagon, and indeed among the public at large than the gay community advocating the "special right" to avoid military service and the responsibility to help defend the nation. Yikes! I shudder to imagine the backlash that would generate. But avoiding backlash is not the issue; the issue is simply this: the gay community does have a responsibility to participate in our national defense, just as do straight citizens.

Let me conclude with the words of former Lance Corporal Jeff Key, an out and proud gay Marine, whose one-man play, Eyes of Babylon, discusses his experiences in Iraq and discusses his homosexuality. Jeff is also a prominent opponent to the war in Iraq, but at the same time, he is a patriotic American who would gladly serve in the military again (but not in this war). "I love this country so much. I was, and still am, willing to give my life for this country and this constitution and to defend defenseless people and support peace on earth."