New York State is planning for the inevitable: the legalization of same-sex marriages. The New York Times reported Thursday and today that Governor Paterson has directed all state agencies to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in California, Massachusetts, Canada, and elsewhere. This will involve as many as 1,300 statutes and regulations, from tax returns to fishing licenses.
That's a lot of planning.
Attitudes are definitely changing, and changing fast. A Field Poll released this week indicated 51% of Californians approve and 42% disapprove the May 15 decision of the California Supreme Court that overturned Proposition 22, the ballot initiative preventing the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. Prop 22, as it is known, was approved by more than 61% of the voters in 2000. That is a stunning shift of opinion in eight years, and even more stunning when you consider that only 28 percent approved of gay marriage in 1977, the year the Field Poll first tested the waters.
Which brings us to the question: what is the Pentagon doing to plan for the day when gays and lesbians will be serving openly in the armed forces of the United States? What will happen when a sergeant at Travis Air Force Base, for example, takes advantage of California law and marries his boyfriend, then returns to base and demands married couples' housing? We know what happens today: that's the end of his Air Force career. He's discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT).
That's the reality, but tomorrow's reality will be different. It's going to happen. The Air Force sergeant will get his quarters and he'll live there with his spouse. Not this year, maybe not next year, but one of these years in the not-too-distant future it will happen if for no other reason than demographics. The younger generation doesn't care, and the older generation where feelings run stronger will pass. It's the way of the world. There is no way to avoid it.
One wonders, is the Pentagon planning for this? In truth, I can't be too optimistic on that front if the planning for what would happen after we invaded Iraq is any example. There was no planning, or precious little. Let's hope they're doing better now. Let's hope that some senior leaders in the Pentagon are listening carefully to Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chair of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee and lead sponsor of the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (H.R. 1246) that would repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." She's telling them that they've got to think seriously about the day DADT is repealed. There is no "if" here. It's just a matter of "when."
Because it is inevitable, doesn't mean it will be easy. Congress rarely leads the country but the president can, and where the country goes, Congress will follow. Will the next president lead us toward repeal? Senators Clinton and Obama favor it, as does Bob Barr, the former Georgia Congressman and an author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, who is now the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nominee. Senator McCain, who believes the ban is working, has publicly stated that "it would be a terrific mistake to even reopen the issue." Here at SLDN, using Barr as our example, we're urging Senator McCain to rethink his position.
The danger is that DADT, so very important to many thousands of men and women, will fall out of sight, rather like the Iraq-Afghanistan war itself. Many Americans, apparently, would rather not think about what is as plain as the nose on your face: there are a lot of gay men and women, many of them serving honorably if quietly in the military, and there is a major war going on in which more than 4,000 Americans have been killed and more than 30,000 wounded, a figure that does not include another 20,000 with brain injuries. A Rand Corporation study estimates that one in five troops are coming home with post traumatic stress syndrome. That is 300,000 people. The number of Iraqis killed and wounded is not really known -- the Pentagon does not count them -- but estimates run as high as a million. Nobody even thinks about the PTSD Iraqis must suffer.
In the face of such staggering misery, events in Iraq and Afghanistan occupied 2% of the news overall last week, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, which analyzes coverage in newspapers, network and cable television, radio and online. Television gives about four minutes a week to the subject. Last September it was 30 minutes.
A small group of Americans, both gay and straight, are fighting and dying in this war, and they are feeling its consequences. The rest of us are changing the channel. The war is fading from our television screens, although it has been going on longer than World War II. Newspapers devote an ever-shrinking number of column inches to the subject for their ever-declining readership. We've tuned out but the war goes on. American Idol is more fun to watch, and there's no blood.