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Quit Dithering: Let Them Ask and Tell

| October 24, 2009

When the Taliban controlled Kabul in the late 1990s, the only permissible mode of mass entertainment was stadium day. People accused of crimes were trucked into Kabul Stadium and maimed or executed in front of large crowds. Among the capital crimes: homosexuality. The offender was executed by having a stone wall topple over him. If he survived, his sentence was commuted. The method is still used in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan controlled by the Taliban.

The Pentagon has this much in common with the jihadists it’s fighting in Afghanistan: hatred of gays. It doesn’t topple walls over them. But its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a surviving deformity of the Clinton years, is all about walls, discrimination and humiliation based on a value system no less justifiable than the Taliban’s contempt for human and civil rights. The policy assumes that there are acceptable and unacceptable human beings. Heterosexuals, however leering their behavior and inflated their jockstraps, are acceptable. Homosexuals are not. But they’ll be “tolertated” as long as they deceive themselves and those around them. Military values, inculcated in such places as West Point and the Citadel, demand that soldiers will not lie or tolerate those who do. Except when it comes to homosexuals. Lying, in their case, is a condition of service.

Lie badly and a dishonorable discharge will follow, and with it loss of health, veteran’s and education benefits, including education benefits those accrued while in the service. Gays booted out of the military (there’s been 13,000 of them in the era of don’t-ask-don’t-tell) must pay back portions of the money invested on their behalf in their schooling.

The greatest dishonor, of course, isn’t the cause of the discharge. Gays should take that as their worthiest medal. The dishonor is the military’s pretentions of equality and integrity that crumble like those stadium walls with every dischrage. The dishonor is the nation’s tolerance of a policy no less offensive than segregation-era racism — or current-era worship of “diversity,” which stops at sexual preference. The military’s institutionalized bigotry of don’t-ask-don’t-tell has its civilian-law equivalent in the more than dozen constitutional amendments banning gay marriage since 2004 and the federal misnomer known as the “Defense of Marriage Act,” another Clinton-era ulcer (compliments of the Republican-majority Congress at the time). Six states have legalized gay marriage. Florida, which has yet to legalize the 21st century, isn’t among them.

Barack Obama isn’t a fan of what he calls “the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” but he’s done nothing more than ask Congress to repeal it. He’s being too kind. You don’t ask for the repeal of depraved laws. You lead the fight against them. But Obama subscribes to the half-way insult of granting gays civil unions while forbidding them the right, older than the Bible, the Koran and the Torah combined, to marry. To win points with liberals, he hitched his gay-rights credentials on ending the military’s neo-segregation policy. Or so we thought. He promised to end don’t-ask-don’t-tell back on the campaign trail. Like so many promises, that one has gone wanting. Last week he delivered one of his stirring speeches, that one at a Human Rights Campaign dinner, and again pledged that “I will end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Timetable? Don’t ask. Method? “I’m working with the Pentagon, its leadership, and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy.” That’s the problem. When Harry Truman desegregated the military in 1948, he signed an executive order and appointed a seven-member advisory panel to stay on top of things. Granted, it was six years before the last unit was desegregated, and Southern Democrats (as the Neanderthal branch of the modern-day Republican genus are called in polite company) reenacted the Civil War through filibuster after filibuster in Congress to defeat Truman’s civil rights agenda. Truman did it anyway.

Ironically, blacks had more leverage against Truman in 1948 than gays have over Obama today. In one of the bitter ironies of the era, blacks had been an essential part of the American effort to defeat fascism only to come home to a kind of Aunt Jemima fascism.

Any soldier’s morale faint enough to be affected by a fellow-soldier’s sexual inclination is a warning that that soldier’s fibers may not be worth the fatigues he’s wearing. Homophobia, not homosexuality, is the sickness in the deal.

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