Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell; Don’t Change

The first and most important thing to understand about the gays in the military debate is that it isn’t really about gays in the military. Not at bottom, at least. The fundamental issue in this argument is about the societal acceptance of homosexuals and, especially, of the homosexual lifestyle. Gays in the military is only a chapter in a much longer story.

Most people, including most moral conservatives, are today quite prepared to extend acceptance to homosexuals and lesbians as individuals-as neighbors, fellow workers, classmates, parishioners, and indeed as friends. The issue, then, boils down to publicly declaring one’s homosexuality and acting out the lifestyle associated with it. Is this also something that must be accepted? That’s what we’re arguing about.

Take the military as a case in point. This debate often gets confused because of a confused way of formulating the issue. According to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen-and many others and the media too-the question is “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly” in the military. But that isn’t so. Gays and lesbians serve openly in the military now and always have. After all, anyone who serves in the military serves openly, regardless of sexual orientation.

The accurate way of stating the issue would be to say “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military as gays and lesbians.” In other words: declare their sexual orientation openly and openly act it out. Here of course is where the question of societal acceptance arises, along with the problems.

Considered in this light, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy strikes me as a reasonable solution and President Obama’s push to get rid of it as a mistake. The policy lets gays and lesbians serve in the military just as they’ve always done. It merely specifies as a condition that they not broadcast the fact of their sexual orientation. The policy may need some touching up to rule out abuses, such as the spiteful outing of gays by third parties, but in principle it can stand as it is.

That isn’t acceptable to homosexuals. Why? Because it sets a condition, and unconditional acceptance is their goal. But although the yearning for unconditional acceptance is understandable, in human affairs generally it’s asking too much.

Society sets many conditions on people-to vote you have to be a citizen, to drive a car your eyesight must be pretty good. It also, necessarily, sets conditions on service in the military, including-up to now-the condition that gays and lesbians not call attention to their sexuality. The reasonable grounds for this particular condition reside in the fear that doing so could be disruptive. There is nothing unfair or unreasonable about that.

But of course it looks highly unfair and unreasonable to someone for whom the unconditional, across-the-board acceptance of homosexuals and their lifestyle, not only in the military but in all social contexts, is the ultimate objective of an emotionally charged drive for “rights.” In that ongoing effort, legal recognition of same-sex marriage is by far the biggest prize. But the unconditional acceptance of gays and lesbians and the lifestyle associated with them in the context of military service is considered a worthwhile intermediate step.

To say these things in the face of today’s pro-gay secular culture is to risk being smeared as a homophobe. To say them also is to repeat the tested wisdom of many centuries. Let’s stick with don’t ask, don’t tell. It makes good sense.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • jpckcmo

    Give up. You have lost the Pentagon and most of the American people.

  • Terri Kimmel


    I think if we had a vote and the two options were:

    (1) Repeal don’t ask, don’t tell


    (2) Make all homosexuals keep considerately quiet about their sexual practices the same way all decent heterosexuals do

    I think the second option would win.

    I don’t think apathy and winning “most of the American people” is the same thing. I object, but so many people I know just want the loudmouth troublemakers placated. That’s not the same as approval.

    I think this might apply in the Pentagon, too.

  • jpckcmo

    You have lost the Pentagon and the majority of the American people.

  • Bruce Roeder

    We are human beings, not human doings. The problem stems from not recognizing the dignity of the human person and the possibility of freedom from sin. A person is not a “lush” a “gigolo” or a “cleptomaniac” but rather a person who struggles with a tendency toward a particular sin. Our sins do not name us. So-called homophobes fail to distinguish the person from their disordered actions. Gay rights advocates likewise refuse to separate the person from their behavior.

  • Obama is doing this because he knows that there will be a mass exodus of heterosexuals out of the military if it is repealed. This will result in a weakened military.

    As a mother of teenagers and the ‘corner house mom’ where everyone comes to hang out, I hear a lot, and I have heard several young people in the military (or thinking of going in)say they will not sign up or stay in if this policy is repealed. This policy keeps things civil and in situations of forced intimacy that are common to military life, no one wants to know about ‘sexual preferences’. They just want to get the job done. To repeal it would destroy that civility.

    The Navy already has a hard to keeping things professional between men and women and certain ‘love boats’….and the army is no better. Imagine if the veil were torn for homosexuals! The love boats would become bathhouses and for those giving everything for a country they love, that would be the last straw.

    The generals must know this.

  • And anyone whose been to a gay pride parade knows there is no limits to certain minds sets. They are ungovernable.

  • jpckcmo

    Every country who allows gays to serve disproves your hypothesis that there will be a mass exodus. It doesn’t happen. The United States has allowed an exemption for gays to serve during times of war (which flies in the face of ‘not now, we are in TWO WARS!’), and experienced no mass exodus. To say that Obama would deliberately weaken our military is sad. How much you must hate him. Gays have served in the military from time imemoriem. There is sexual harassment of women by heterosexual males in the military now. This is a fatuous argument, and it is just about over. Even DICK CHENEY has come out in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The Pentagon and the majority of the American people now see that homosexuals can serve the country they love. Homophobia no longer will dictate policy, and it’s about time.