A Violation of Freedom
“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” contradicts the First Amendment protections guaranteed by the Constitution by abridging the autonomy of affected parties. The policy was enacted as a compromise when president Clinton’s campaign promise to integrate gays into the military conflicted with the Department of Defense Directive 1304.14, which stated: “A member may be separated for violation of laws or regulations regarding sexual conduct of members or the Armed Forces, for example, engaging or attempting to engage in a homosexual act” (DDD 1304.14). This compromise failed to effectively satisfy both sides of the issue and aroused a large amount of controversy since its inception. Opponents argued that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” violates the First Amendment protecting freedom of speech. The policy violates the First Amendment by prohibiting speech pertaining to one’s sexual orientation, specifically, permitting the disclosure of one’s heterosexuality and not one’s homosexuality (Rubenstein 19). A straight serviceman is free to expose his heterosexuality to others, but a gay one is prohibited from revealing his homosexuality. This is tantamount to selective censorship, as it restricts the free expression of a certain minority. Furthermore, document “§ 654. Policy Concerning Homosexuals in Armed Forces”, which authorized the passage of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, states “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability” and that “The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service” (Feldbum). This means that, given the circumstances of military service, the free exercise or expression of one’s sexuality is seen as a threat to unit cohesion. This “unacceptable risk” is seen as justification for circumventing the First Amendment, because being openly gay is acknowledged to be overtly dangerous for military effectiveness. This presents a gaping contradiction in government policy and adherence to constitutional ideals. While the First Amendment promises freedom of expression, the expression of one’s homosexuality in the military is seen as dangerous and threatening and is therefore prohibited. In order to preserve the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” must be repealed.
Public Response to the Bill
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discriminates against gay military officers by specifically targeting them as a cause for discomfort among heterosexual peers (Rubenstein). The policy supports a largely outdated view of the compatibility of homosexuality with heterosexuality, specifically, that heterosexuals would not be able to function properly with homosexuals and must be segregated. This contradicts with the findings of a 2006 poll, wherein 73% of respondents said they felt comfortable working amongst gays and lesbians (Zogby). In addition, Michael Mullen, chief military advisor to President Barack Obama, said in a personal address, that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do” (Bumiller). Scientific research refutes claims that open gay presence is harmful. An American Psychological Association study found no adverse effect to military effectiveness when gay and lesbian officers were present in a unit (APA), proving false beliefs that gay presence would damage unit cohesion and morale. Adding that “the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue’ policy as mandated by Title 10 of the U.S. Code (Section 654) discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, and has caused many qualified personnel to be involuntarily separated from military service solely because of their sexual orientation” and that “comparative data from foreign militaries and domestic police and fire departments show that when lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are allowed to serve openly there is no evidence of disruption or loss of mission effectiveness” (APA). The association likened it to the desegregation of the military, integrating multiracial units into the army was effectively done in the past, indicating that integrating open homosexuals was feasible (APA). In 1993, Gregory Herek, a professor of psychology from UC Davis, testified that “research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters” (Herek). Herek’s testimony as well as the APA study proves that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” fails to accomplish its goal of preserving military effectiveness while accusing gay people of causing unrest and discomfort in their units.
Other Nations and Civilian Opposition
Statistically, there is widespread opposition to the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy from both civilians and politicians. When President Barack Obama promised to repeal the policy in his 2010 state of the union address (Siegel), interest in repealing the policy was sparked again. Civilian opposition to the policy is heavy; a 2008 Washington Post poll reported that 73% of responders supported allowing gays to serve openly (Dropp). Changing perceptions of homosexuality is responsible for this shift in beliefs, making “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” outdated. For example, the Pew Research Center found that negative thoughts of gays have subsided when a 2007 nationwide poll stated that 27% of Americans supported firing gay teachers as opposed to 51% in 1987 (Cohen). Certain populations have also shown support for the integration of open gays into the military, with 57% of white Protestants supporting it and 82% of white Catholics (Dropp). Interestingly, the same poll also found that participants in the military are more likely to support the policy, with 48% of respondents saying that open-gay presence would be detrimental to unit cohesion (Zogby). The findings of these polls indicate that public perception of homosexuality has changed through the years to become more understanding, making the current “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy outdated. Furthermore, other nations allow gays to serve openly with no harm to their military effectiveness. Uruguay lifted a ban on gays in their military in 2009, previously considering homosexuality a condition rendering soldiers unfit for service; it retracted that view with further developments (AP). Israel also allows gays to serve openly without policy discrimination, despite this, a Jerusalem Post poll found that 52% of gay soldiers reported harassment by their fellow squad mates (Lefkovitzs). Britain is also among the nations that allow openly gay members to serve without adverse effect on their effectiveness, making it illegal to harass other servicemen on basis of their sexual orientation (Barr). Considering that other nations like Israel and Britain were able to integrate homosexuals openly into their respective militaries without any problems, there is little reason as to why the United States cannot do the same.
The Future of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
President Obama’s 2010 State of the Nation address refueled hopes of repealing the policy (Siegel). He said, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are" (Hornick). This promise brings “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” under scrutiny again, and the policy will be challenged or defended by members from all sides of the political spectrum. Given that there is evidence that the policy is ineffective in preserving military order (Herek) and that other nations hold effective and successful militaries with openly gay members (AP), it is unnecessary for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to remain in effect.
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