Gerber: Sexual orientation shouldn’t matter on the battlefield

The United States Constitution grants the freedoms of speech, petition and assembly –been there, learned that in elementary school. It is startling, then, that so few Americans use these rights to complain about our government and the way it works.

In the U.S. military, the policy of "don't ask, don't tell" bars gay men and women from openly expressing their sexual orientation while serving. Under the terms of the policy, the military does not ask service members about their sexual orientation and in return, servicemen cannot be persecuted for being gay as long as they keep the information private.

A group of powerful movers and shakers in the government are, with the help of President Barack Obama, beginning to change this. A bill to repeal the policy was passed in 2010 but does not become effective until 60 days after Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen certify that repeal will not harm military readiness.

Now, make no mistake – I am a huge supporter of the U.S. armed forces, and I give thanks every day for the service members who protect my family, my country and me. I am also of the belief, though, that who you love shouldn't set you apart from any other American citizen. It is not right that sexual orientation can lead to the loss of legal privileges. A member of the military should be allowed to openly express his sexuality – heterosexual or not.

Imagine being overseas in a country completely unlike the one in which you grew up, far away from your family and friends and alienated from the world you used to know and the people who supported you there. Imagine loving someone back home who prays for you and thinks about you and supports you every day, and you can't tell anyone about how much that person means to you. Imagine having to hide a whole part of yourself from the very people who entrust their lives to you and to whom you entrust yours.

Psychologically and physiologically speaking, stress is bad news. Psychologically, stress can lead to impaired logical thinking and a number of mental illnesses, impairing an individual's ability to control his emotions. Physically, it can cause headaches, excretory system issues, weakness, tremors, loss of appetite and a host of other symptoms. Having to hide something as significant as sexual orientation from the people with whom all time is spent could cause enough stress to invoke any or all of these conditions.

We send our soldiers to some of the most dangerous places in the world, and they go there because they are honorable and courageous, so why not facilitate the best possible conditions for all service members? The repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is an extremely positive step for our country. The repeal will allow free expression – as all human beings deserve – for those serving in the military and will provide an invitation for all servicemen and women in serious opposition to open sexuality to leave. In an ideal world, who you love dictates your love life – and nothing else.