Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Don't Ask Don't Tell and DOMA

When the White House announced earlier this year that it would not continue to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, conservatives were shocked that the administration could decide which laws to defend and which to abandon.  But the demise of DOMA would have a major impact on another group you might not realize-the US military.

The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is in the early stages, with training and briefings going down to the unit level about the new policy.  My unit was briefed last week, and while most of the information was exactly as we all expected, the most interesting detail was the military’s new reliance on DOMA.  Many military members, myself included, have speculated that the end of DADT is just the beginning for the agenda that gay and lesbian advocacy groups have in mind for the military.  The argument for the end of DADT is that servicemembers should be able to serve without having to hide their sexual orientation.  But many feel that open service is just the beginning and that the ultimate goal is official acceptance of gay marriage and the full progressive lifestyle.

The military has been adamant that the end of DADT will only mean open service, and not gay marriage.  The official explanation is that while the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly has been removed, nothing else will change.  But here comes the unexpected weak link in this policy-the military is reliant on the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  As we were briefed, gay marriage will not be allowed or recognized by the US military because federal law (DOMA) states that marriage is between one man and one woman.  The Defense of Marriage Act was referenced several times during our briefing, and was listed as a resource for anyone looking for more information.  DOMA was cited when the Navy reversed itself after announcing it would conduct gay marriages.

And that’s where the problem comes in.  If the military is relying on DOMA to keep the issue of gay marriage at bay, what happens when DOMA is overturned because the administration won’t defend it from court challenge?

The US military is in the midst of one of the largest fundamental cultural changes since the integration of the armed forces in the 1950’s.  But even as we are struggling with this change during a time of war, the White House is leaving the military open to an even bigger culture shock-mandatory acceptance of gay marriage.

Gay and lesbian advocacy groups have to realize the opportunity that they have here.  Rather than fight uphill battles state by state against an idea that does not have overwhelming popular support, they can fight a smaller battle in the court system to force gay marriage on the US military.  They would be fighting against an administration that has no skin in the game, so to speak, and in fact would probably like to see both the repeal of DOMA and the integration of gay marriage into the military.  Both fit in with their ideology, and perhaps more significantly, both would be seen as a victory by the progressive left in America, potentially shoring up the Democrat base going into next year’s elections.  The risks and costs for progressives is very small, but the potential payoff could be a game changer socially and politically.

My personal opinion is that DADT worked well.  Gays and lesbians were never banned from serving in the military; they were simply prohibited from talking about their sex lives.  Despite the Hollywood stereotypes, the integration of women into the military has already had the effect of making discussions of your buddy’s sex life much less common.  But the repeal of DADT will be a decade long transition for the military.  Because we have been trained to accept good order and discipline as the norm, I think the military can handle the transition.  But another large cultural shift, such as gay marriage, could well push the military beyond its breaking strain in terms of morale and discipline.  It’s a challenge we simply do not need right now.

All opinions are of course my own.

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