Monday, April 11, 2005

Time to Ask, Tell

Last Thursday, the AP reported the story of Sgt. Robert Stout, a decorated soldier from the 9th Engineer Battalion fighting in Iraq. The openly gay Stout wants a chance to continue to serve his country without having to lie about who he is. The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which forbids openly gay soldiers from serving, will likely result in Stout's discharge from the Army.

The official policy holds that homosexuals create "an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." The story of Sgt. Stout, who says he is out to most of the 9th Engineer Battalion, suggests otherwise. According to the AP write-up, Stout "was awarded the Purple Heart after a grenade sent pieces of shrapnel into his arm, face and legs while he was operating a machine gun on an armored Humvee last May." That's a far cry from the stereotype of the mincing queen copping feels in foxholes. It looks like Stout conducted himself exactly like—surprise, surprise—any other soldier.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell," a half-assed (so to speak) policy brought on by President Clinton's inability to live up to his campaign promises, is doomed, just like policies barring minorities and women from the armed forces were (both of these policies used the same argument that "justifies" DADT now). The only question is when it will fall. All indications are that now is as good a time as any for the US to join the 24 nations—including Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Canada and Israel—that allow openly gay people to serve in the military.

As the military struggles to meet recruitment goals, it is increasingly indefensible to allow the discharge of thousands of skilled troops because of bigotry and homophobia. The military's anti-gay policy puts America at greater risk abroad and at home (click here to read how DADT purged dozens of Arabic and Farsi translators both before and after 9/11, even as the official investigation into the terror attacks listed an insufficient number of translators as one of its causes).

It will be interesting to see how Sgt. Stout's case will be handled, just as it will be interesting to gauge the reaction to prominent Republican consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein's recent marriage to his male partner of 40 years. Perhaps this is an opportunity for conservatives to actually stand up for the conservative ideal that the government should judge people on their merits, not the details of their private lives. (bc)
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