A federal district judge has begun the final and well deserved death of one of the more ridiculous anti-civil rights policies this country has maintained. "Don't ask, Don't Tell," coined during the Clinton administration to describe the irrational military ban on homosexual soldiers and service people, has been given a great deal of attention of late. Now at last, it seems, the courts have begun to insist that the military stand up to the American Ideals of freedom and equality it so often champions.
A little background...
This country does not have a good civil rights record. I love the United States and I love America; I'm a patriot. But what I love about this country is the ideals that we are supposed to espouse through the better angels of our nature. Our ideals - and our striving to make them real - are what make this country great, not it's symbols, songs, flags, biases and jingoism. Nothing is uglier than calling someone a traitor who, through love of country, criticizes to make the country better.
I am not, therefore, an irrational or foolish patriot who feels that you must "love it or leave it" and who blindly accepts whatever the government does or says. True patriots, like many of the founding fathers and like many of the greatest Democrats and Republicans since, have always felt that loving and fair minded but often harsh criticism of the government is what a patriot does to manifest their patriotism.
Marching in lockstep with a party line is an expression of ignorance and a type of intellectual cowardice and fascism.
I want to see America succeed. I want to see it be the greatest country on earth and I want it to be the place where my son grows up and raises his own family. I want it to continue, always, to be a beacon of hope for the world, a place where we truly welcome the "wretched refuse" who crave " the light of freedom". These are not just words. Cynical conservatives who blindly accept what Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin and other right wingers have to say are not patriots. People who hate others because of sexual orientation, race or religion are worse than not patriots. They're the kind of enemy America was meant to fight.
Because I love my country, I've always been harshly critical when it fails to live up to its own aspirations and standards. This country was " conceived in liberty," where "all men (and all women and all minorities) are created equal".
The problem, of course, is that many of the framers were slave owners who did not believe that slaves were men and who did not believe that women were capable of participating in the exercise of government. Yet we've come a long way since then, and not even the staunchest, most foolish conservative would now dare argue that women are not deserving of the vote, of fair wages in the workplace, etc. It has simply become political suicide to espouse that view if you have any hope of mainstream success. Likewise, the same staunch conservatives and right wingers could never get away with arguing that people who are not Caucasian are similarly unsuited to participate in government were to possess the same rights in full measure as Caucasians possess.
They possessed these ideas once - and they acted upon them and fiercely defended the 'rightness' of them, but in time, change came. Now, those ideas are seen as universally wrong.
Yet, homophobia persists.
Homophobia is the easiest prejudice to get away with having in today's America. Everything nowadays for young people that doesn't meet with their approval is "gay", even if it's the fact that the toast has been burned. The word "gay" is so often used, that it has become literally impossible to separate it from concepts to which it has never been before attached. Thus does homophobia persist in pop culture and in almost every text message young people send. Boys giving compliments to other boys are playfully - and sometimes destructively and not so playfully - teased for being gay or a homo. Some say 'not gay' as a humorous defense to the accusation to beat out anyone preparing to tease them.
So it's no surprise that it's still politically acceptable to bash homosexuals by claiming that they have a "secret agenda" and by claiming that they are trying to "erode" the country and/or family values. This is the ridiculous clarion cry that the right wing uses to rally its religious automatons who will blindly vote for any candidate who says the right mantras against the "gay agenda". I have a feeling that religious right wingers would vote for Adolf Hitler if they thought they could elect him into office and that he would prevent "the gay agenda" from ruining their precious insular little lies about the world.
I am a straight man with a wife and a son who has no problem with the fact that some people are not straight. I have no problem with the fact that those people would like to have loving marriages and pay the same fees, fines, taxes, and have the same rights, as my wife and I do. I have no problem with the fact that these people want to adopt and raise children or that they want to conceive children and raise them in a loving, supportive family environment.
And I have no problem with the fact that a gay man or woman might want to pick up a gun, fly a plane, drive a tank, or provide military support for love of their country. My son is seven years old; I do not know what his future holds. He may decide to enter military service or he may not. The world may change enough where he is pressed or drafted into military service. He may find himself in harm's way one day. I don't want to think about the fact that he might be killed or maimed because someone was not there to help him. That someone might have been a homosexual or lesbian soldier who was perfectly willing to pick up a gun and walk into battle with my son. If they were not there, however, because, being out and proud, they were unwelcome in the military, then the soldier who saves my son's life won't be there to do it. Maybe there is no straight replacement. Maybe the straight alternative isn't a good shot. Maybe they tortured a prisoner and got sent home to face charges.
Maybe my son dies because my country is still, in the third decade of the 21st century, being run by bigots.
I shouldn't have to worry about that. No one should.
I have heard from whence this bigotry comes. I understand why many people in the military have had seemingly forever, this view, though I doubt it mattered during the War of Independence. The fearful bigots seem to feel that somehow, homosexuals are not "man enough" or "predictable enough" in their actions to trust in combat. They're worried about sexual "come-ons" in the barracks. Yet this same military has a not very proud history of sexual harassment between the sexes which it constantly sweeps under the rug, condones, accepts and defends. I find it ridiculous that a military which is so riddled with sexual harassment and historic mysoginy would, with a straight face, argue about worries over sexual "come-ons" in the barracks.
It's simply not reason enough to stop men and women from wishing to serve in the Armed Forces. Serving in the Armed Forces is not easy. The training is rigorous. Training for the Special Forces is even more rigorous. It requires, for front line combat troops, pilots, infantry and calvary, the willingness to lay down one's life for love of country and love of duty. Anyone who is willing to do that probably has the personal discipline to keep it in their pants when they are off duty; if they don't, the military code of justice is there to punish them for that, and for many other infractions unrelated to sex.
"Don't ask, Don't Tell" should have been killed by Bill Clinton, and in a very sterling eight years as president, I find it one of the few reasons I have to greatly criticize him. For the same reasons, I criticize Barack Obama. I don't forgive George Bush for failing to do anything about it, because he was a fool and the tool of other fools and I don't expect anything other than foolishness from fools.
From people of conscience, vision and progressiveness, however, I expect better. I am glad that the court is finally doing its job as the third prong of our democracy and striking down what ought to be stricken and which has persisted for far too long.
I hope that "Don't ask, don't tell" dies an undignified and well deserved death soon, and that it joins such memorable American hypocrisies as WWII internment camps, slavery, denying women the vote, permitting child labor, union busting, race-segregated military service and other winning ideas whose times came and went.
If it does, it's one more paving stone on the journey to justice.