By repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the U.S. Senate has taken an important step toward establishing equal rights for gay Americans. No longer will members of the Armed Forces – the nation’s largest employer – have to hide their sexual orientation to protect their jobs.
Repeal is supported by top military leaders such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, who is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And surveys indicate that most troops – particularly the younger ones who are fighting today’s wars – are not concerned with the sexual orientation of their fellow soldiers.
The military’s new openness, however, contrasts with the ugly push to ban gay marriage in many states. California’s Proposition 8, for example – approved in November 2008 by 52% of voters – updated the state’s constitution to make sure that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized.”
The embarrassing success of legislation like Prop 8 suggests that, though the Senate has moved forward with equal rights for gays in the military, most Americans still react to homosexuality with childish discomfort and small-mindedness.
To more clearly demonstrate our nation’s commitment to equality, the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama should work to counter measures like California’s Prop 8. After all, the Senate deserves kudos for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – but there’s something deeply phony about allowing gay people to risk their lives for their country while failing to defend their right to marry the person they love.
Similarly, voters who support roadblocks to equality like Prop 8 should reflect on the military’s new policy of treating gays the same as everybody else. If an organization as macho, conservative and traditional as the U.S. military can get over its hang-ups involving sexual orientation, why can’t you?
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represents an important victory for equal rights. In the war on discrimination against gay people, however, many larger battles remain.