Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pace, gays and the military

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he believes homosexual acts are immoral and that he supports "don't ask, don't tell" because otherwise the military would be endorsing homosexuality.

Gay activists have demanded he apologize. So far, he has refused.

As is his right. Some observers have attacked the groups demanding an apology, saying they are infringing on Pace's First Amendment right to speak freely. Which is nonsense. Pace has a right to speak his mind and not be arrested; that's what the First Amendment is for. He does not, however, have a right to be free from others expressing their constitutionally protected opinion of his opinion.

The real criticism here, IMO, is that the demand for an apology is excessive and over the top, fulfilling every stereotype of gay-rights activists as strident and demanding. I understand their anger, but a better tactic would be to express disappointment and perhaps highlight the stories of a few of the thousands of highly competent soldiers discharged for being gay -- at a time when the military is scraping the bottom of its manpower barrel.

Or like John Warner, R-Va., a former Navy secretary, put it: "I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral."

The policy Pace defended is a problem, too. "Don't ask, don't tell" was a too-clever-by-half Clintonian compromise. It didn't end anti-gay witch hunts and it doesn't let gay soldiers have lives. It doesn't clearly state whether being gay is compatible with military service. It's a demand for gay soldiers to stay in the closet, which is a morale and security risk waiting to happen.

Maybe it's time to dust off a time-honored military tactic for dealing with stupid social issues. Create separate units for gay soldiers, the way we created separate units for blacks, Asians and women until we got over that particular silliness.

Or maybe we could just cut out the intervening 10 years of nonsense and allow gays to serve openly in the military, subject to all the fraternization and conduct rules that apply to straight men and women who serve together -- another blending of sexuality that critics (groundlessly) feared would destroy the military.

Which is what would happen if H.R. 1246, introduced by Massachusetts Rep. Martin Meehan, is adopted. It would repeal "don't ask, don't tell" and let gays serve openly. The good news: it has 113 co-sponsors. The bad news: The Democratic leadership hasn't scheduled it for debate yet, fearing political fallout.

They should get moving on it. The military manpower problem is too acute to afford the luxury of such discrimination any more, and the issues involved in integrating gay soldiers are more easily dealt with when they're out in the open. Gays are citizens too; they should be allowed to serve their country without having to deny part of who they are.

Update: Yikes! Meehan is resigning from Congress to become a university chancellor. Let's hope his bill survives his departure.

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