Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wherein I take a possibly surprising position on a controversial issue

So I walked over to the [Group W] bench, there … Group W is where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the Army after committing your especial crime … there was all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly people on the bench there … mother-rapers … father-stabbers … FATHER-RAPERS!
Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restauraunt”

In California—where else?—US District Court judge Virginia Phillips issued a permanent, world-wide injunction against the Defense Department, ordering the military “immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding, that may have been commenced” under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

To me, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy made sense only as a means of conserving military criminal investigations resources for more critical violations of the UCMJ; as an attempt to compromise between the ideal of no gays in the military and the reality of gays filling useful, even critical roles, it was a loser: instead of being quietly intolerant, the DoD became openly hypocritical as well as intolerant.

At this point, given the last few posts on the subject of homosexuality, you would probably expect me to be strongly against allowing gay people in the military. After all, I commonly joke that “the military is the family business”. My grandfather, Franklin P. Layne, served in the Army during World War I; my father and older brother were career Air Force; my sister and younger brother were both Army reservists, my sister being the only officer of the bunch and my younger brother the only one to see action (Desert Storm). Beyond that, my mother’s brother-in-law was a reservist in the Marines; my maternal uncle John served in the Army; another cousin served in the Army Reserves full-time 9-to-5 for twenty years; another was a Navy reservist. And my great-uncle, Lt. Joseph Cronin, lost his life at the battle of Montelimar in August 1944. And that’s just three generations.

(Oh, yeah: I served a very brief stint in the Marine Corps myself, receiving an honorable discharge not two months after being sworn in. Some time I’ll tell you about it. Or not.)

However, I’m not against it. Rather, I’m for it.

First of all, you must understand that I don’t start out from the position that to be homosexual is automatically to be depraved beyond all social use or consideration. Granted, quite a few are; but then, so are quite a few straight people. Even if we grant some disproportion in depravity, heterosexuals still far outnumber homosexuals.

Some of the concerns I’ve seen about gays in the military—beyond the purely puritanical—center around the high correlation with risky lifestyles: alcoholism, drug abuse, unsafe sexual practices, etc. Although gay-rights advocates, including their hired guns in the social sciences, attribute the self-destructiveness within the gay subculture to discrimination and homophobia, it’s only a partial explanation. The other part comes from the conditions and events which produced the problems of which SSA is a symptom. It should be needless to say that not all actively gay people take unnecessary risks beyond those inherent in gay sex … or in straight sex, for that matter.

Now, you would think that the military is the self-destructive person’s dream. It isn’t; in fact, even those who serve in the most dangerous combat roles are trained with an eye to calculated, necessary risks. A high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) parachute jump may be necessary for a special-forces team to enter their area of operations for a particular mission; Joe Schmuckatelli the banker from Tallahassee has no such similar need to make such a high-stakes jump when visiting the branch operations in Cuyahoga Falls. A flight of F-16s may have to fly 500 feet off the surface to evade enemy radar; Joe Schmuckatelli has no need to drive 90 miles an hour on a two-lane highway. Combat professionals fear those who feel compelled to take stupid risks for no other reason than “because it’s fun”. And the military has zero tolerance for drug and alcohol abuse. Such people don’t usually have twenty-year careers.

Those who worry about the reckless hedonism attributed to the gay subculture being transplanted whole within the military are barking up the wrong tree. If there are any gay men who have sexual fantasies about what goes on in the barracks between taps and reveille, they’re sure to be disappointed by the reality. Generally, you’re too physically exhausted to be kept awake by the fifty belching, farting men around you, even by the guy who snores like a Ryobi chainsaw. Off duty, military personnel have sex lives; on duty, though, the armed forces have another name for it: dereliction of duty. Just like getting your freak on at the office, it’s not a tenure-enhancing activity. Except that your average employer can’t send you to Fort Leavenworth for it. Besides, there just isn’t that much “alone time” to be found in the average military unit.

The fact is, relations between male and female servicemembers are strictly defined not only by regulation, to prevent rape and sexual harassment as well as to preserve good order, but also by strong social custom as well. By the time a person has not only graduated from boot camp but also finished their advanced specialty training, they’re fully immersed and enculturated into the military as a society unto itself. Thousands of gay men and women have not only adopted but fully embraced the sexual discipline of this culture, even though it has not validated their sexual preferences. In fact, I would argue that the discipline of the military culture is beneficial for homosexuals, as it is a dignifying, constructive force in personal development.

I do have some qualms about the social conditions under which this move is currently being considered. The evidence I’ve seen to date indicates that same-sex attraction (SSA) is a symptom of certain disorders arising from many environmental factors, primarily a highly abusive or distant relationship with one’s father, and not a hard-wired orientation from birth. It’s an urban legend that splits homosexuals and heterosexuals into ultimate polarities with no real middle ground. However, as a society we have in large chosen to accept the gay meta-narrative, which makes active homosexuality not only natural but an inevitable fate of physiology, which decrees that same-sex attraction neither needs nor admits of alleviation or cure.

As a result of the international enculturation of this wishful thinking, we have not only legalized gay adoption (despite emerging studies showing the negative effects same-sex parenting has on children) but are beginning to legalize same-sex marriage (despite numerous defeats when brought to popular votes). Certainly the Rehnquist Court accepted the rationale in Lawrence v. Texas; certainly the Obama Administration accepts it as part of its move to eliminate “don’t ask, don’t tell” as its policy for dealing with gays in the military. Can anyone believe for a minute that acceptance of openly-gay servicemembers won’t be followed by pushes for formal recognition of gay partners as dependents, for DoD provision for gay adoptions, even for the performance of same-sex marriages in military chapels?

(And, hovering in the distance, the inevitable First-Amendment challenge as someone tries to force a Catholic chaplain to perform that marriage ….)

If I could be assured that such moves would be defeated, I would be more whole-hearted in my endorsement. Certainly my motives for supporting the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” aren’t based in defeatism or a sense of inevitability. However, these potential consequences are very probable, and we Christians would be foolish not to consider what they would entail.

Nevertheless, my objection to gay marriage and gay parenthood is rooted in same-sex attraction as a dysfunction; however, participation in homoerotic sex is a choice, not an inevitability or a necessity. It doesn’t necessarily follow that a psychological affliction which challenges sacramental marriage and responsible parenthood also makes that person unfit to carry out the duties of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. So far as the conditions which create same-sex attraction may also challenge one’s fitness, those must be explored on a case-by-case basis, not used as grounds for rejecting certain kinds of people wholesale. The emphasis here is on the individual as an individual, not as a member of a class or subculture; it is on homosexuality as a symptom of underlying problems, not as a problem in itself.

Let’s not kid ourselves, here: The military isn’t a saint-making institution, although quite a few saints were soldiers at some point in their lives. However, it is an institution that has formed many of our best citizens, imbued them with not only discipline but moral integrity, with the old-fashioned yet ever-necessary values expressed in the West Point motto: DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY. Or in the Marine Corps verbal salute: “Semper Fi!”[1] I don’t believe that being gay necessarily makes someone unable to live the values the United States armed forces prizes most highly.

Or unable to die for their country. As I’m sure many have.


[1] The USMC motto is Semper Fidelis: “Always Faithful”.