On Tuesday, the United States Senate failed to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the policy that allows gays to serve in the military provided they are not open about their sexuality. Naturally there has been liberal backlash and conservative exultation, but the issue is deeper than it seems.
Ironically enough, the policy was considered extremely progressive in 1993 when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting the military from asking soldiers about their sexual orientation. Seventeen years later, the policy has become a polarizing issue in the U.S.
While DADT may seem like a cut and dry issue of civil rights, there's more at stake than the ability of homosexuals to freely and openly serve in America's military. In a Zogby International poll conducted in 2006, a small margin - and when we say small, we mean very small - of soldiers were of the opinion that open homosexuality would be detrimental to the military's success. Possible reasons include bigotry: If a gay soldier cannot trust the soldier at his side to protect him at all costs, the safety of two soldiers has been compromised. It's not necessarily a rational argument, but it is a point of view rarely considered.Further complicating matters is the testimony of high-ranking military officials in favor of the repeal of the policy. Retired Gen. John Shalikashvili wrote in 2007, "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces." Colin Powell, former secretary of state and retired Army general has stated that while DADT was "right for its time," its time has passed and it should be done away with.
In the end, it's important as ever to remember that no policy issue is black and white, certainly not one as controversial as the permissibility of gays in the military. While the demagogues have spouted hate at each other over the issue, one man, perhaps, put it best. A West Point cadet asked Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whether he favored or opposed the policy. Mullen responded: "Congress, and not the military, is responsible for DADT." Ultimately, it all comes down to the senators. May they make their decision independently of partisan shouting and consider all of the relevant issues at hand.