Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gays, the Military and Christmas

Christmas came early last week for the gays in the military. In an unexpected vote of 63 to 33 the Senate mustered up the courage to cut off debate on this issue. So Wednesday the President will sit down at his desk and sign a document which will put an end to “Don’t ask, don’t tell”. Gay members of the military closeted for so long can breathe just a little freer. They can simply be who they are—at least in the service.

14,000 gay members of the armed forces have been forced to leave the service because of the old policy. Of course there has been much opposition to this new ruling. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said, “In the middle of a military conflict, is not the time to do this.” Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma stated, “This isn’t broke…it is working well.” Far right church groups are saying this is the just another step toward Armageddon. Senator John McCain issued a strong statement about how our troops in battle will suffer and this action would hurt our efforts in the war.

We’ve been here before. Blacks have served in the military since before the Revolution. But always they were segregated. One of the issues in the Civil War was if slaves should fight for their freedom. The film, “Glory” told of the courage of those black soldiers that fought for the Union. There was a strong movement to desegregate the military during the Roosevelt days of the Second World War but he demurred. But President Truman in an Executive order in July of 1948 officially desegregated the military. Remember that this was six years before the public schools were officially desegregated. Which means that this executive order signed by President Truman was as enormously courageous move. It would take two years before the policy was fully implemented. Opponents argued that insurrection would ensue. The morale of the soldiers would be seriously affected. This issue would cripple the war effort. None of these things happened.

Senator Joseph Lieberman who led to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” said that this ban undermined the integrity of the military by forcing troops to lie. What a waste, he said that we had hounded our thousands who should still be serving our country.

I talked to a gay friend of mine some time ago. “Don’t you get discouraged having to stay closeted. Not being able to say who you are at work. Not even using your hospital insurance since you are HIV positive and you afraid that your bosses will find out.” He told me it was hard but he felt that a sea change was beginning to occur. I will live to say the day when these attitudes change.” I wondered if he was too optimistic. But we know that in the last few years we have seen a change of attitude in the public toward homosexuality.
Even after this ruling change will come slowly as did our attitudes toward race. As we witness the invectives toward our first black President we know that our work is far from finished. Mr. Obama declared while he was running for President that he would change this discriminatory policy in the military. After all the difficulties that have rained down on his head of late, I doubted this would ever happen. And yet—this week we will begin to put aside yet another discriminatory act.

Gay people want what everyone wants—simply to have the basic rights that our constitution promises every citizen. We have not gotten there—but we are on the road. And this Christmas gift by our government is a very large present to a segment of our population that has felt discrimination every day they live. This not-so-simple act makes one more step in keeping faith once more with that phrase in our Constitution: “liberty and justice for all.”

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