This Thursday, Sept. 20, marks one year since the discriminatory policy known as "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) finally came to an end, opening the door to service in the Armed Forces to all individuals regardless of their sexual orientation. It's a day worthy of celebration as a critical mile marker on the long and winding road of equality under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans.
As we mark this occasion, it is worth revisiting the arguments once advanced by repeal opponents, namely that ending DADT would somehow harm servicemembers and weaken military readiness and unit cohesion. According to a just-published study on the effects of repeal, open service for lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the Armed Forces "has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale." Of note, co-authors of the study included professors at the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, and U.S. Marine Corps War College.
A July Associated Press article that focused specifically on the impact of open service on military chaplains included the following assessment:
Prior to repeal, various conservative groups and individuals -- including many conservative retired chaplains -- warned that repeal would trigger an exodus of chaplains whose faiths consider homosexual activity to be sinful. In fact, there's been no significant exodus -- perhaps two or three departures of active-duty chaplains linked to the repeal. Moreover, chaplains or their civilian coordinators from a range of conservative faiths told The Associated Press they knew of virtually no serious problems thus far involving infringement of chaplains' religious freedom or rights of conscience.
The New York Times, in a prominent editorial on Sunday, succinctly observed that those "who warned of disastrous consequences if gay people were allowed to serve openly in the military are looking pretty foolish."
Despite the overall non-event that open service has been for those actually in the Armed Forces, some opponents of DADT repeal on Capitol Hill aren't ready to give up the fight. During consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year, Representatives Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) added two provisions that would undermine DADT repeal and open service by gay individuals.
The Akin Amendment in the House-passed NDAA could function as a dangerous license to use religion as a cover for discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers, by stating that the beliefs of members of the Armed Forces "concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality" must be accommodated and shall not be the "basis for any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment." This language -- a solution in search of a problem -- could encourage the creation of personal, social, and institutional barriers that would make the military a hostile environment for the very people who only recently won a measure of equality under the law. It would also make it very difficult for commanders to remove such barriers when they do arise. The White House described this provision as "potentially harmful to good order and discipline."
The Palazzo Amendment would prohibit Defense Department facilities from being used for private marriage or "marriage-like" ceremonies for same-sex couples, even where state law permits such marriages. This provision ignores the fact that these facilities are already available for use by servicemembers for a wide range of religious functions and ceremonies, including weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, and other events. To deny them to gay and lesbian service members -- even in those states where same-sex couples enjoy the freedom to marry -- based on nothing more than the sexual orientation of those wishing to make use of the facilities is discriminatory. The White House described this provision as a "troublesome and potentially unconstitutional limitation on religious liberty."
While the arguments that were once employed to argue against DADT repeal may now look "foolish," the continued efforts by some to greenlight discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers is no laughing matter. As the NDAA continues through the legislative process in Congress, it is critically important for those representatives and senators -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- who supported the repeal of DADT to stand against these types of efforts that are designed to turn back the clock on open service.