Commentary Magazine


Women Paved the Way for Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

I am in complete agreement with Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who writes today in favor of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To my mind, the most powerful argument in favor of repeal is that pretty much all of the arguments made against admitting openly gay service personnel were made against admitting women. Indeed, admitting women was probably more of a cultural shift than admitting gays — because gays already serve.

Given that the vast majority of people are heterosexual, it stands to reason that only in a small minority of cases will there be issues related to homosexual love and attraction. Putting a small number of women into a hitherto all-male community created many more possibilities for social tensions, with the added problem of pregnancy to boot. (At least gays and lesbians don’t get pregnant accidentally.)

Yet, after some early problems, the integration of women has been largely smooth. Most of the fears of early naysayers such as Jim Webb (now a Democratic Senator) have not come to pass. Certainly it is hard to argue with a straight face that admitting women into uniform has degraded the combat effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces over the past three decades — a time when, by all measures, they have reached their fighting peak.

While more and more military occupational specialties are opening up to women (the latest being submarine service), there are still a few billets in ground-combat units and Special Operations Units, which remain all-male in deference to concerns about unit cohesion and lack of privacy in the field. It may well make sense to also keep openly gay personnel out of these billets, at least for some time, as long as their presence might cause serious tensions.

But the overwhelming majority of military jobs are performed on large bases, either in the States or abroad, where a fair degree of privacy is attainable. Even in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, women (whether contractors or service personnel) are present on most forward-operating bases down to the brigade level and often below. After all, women serve in Military Police units, which are often on the front lines of counterinsurgency.  If women can make a useful contribution, there is little doubt that gays can as well. Indeed, they are already doing so, except that now they must guard their sexual identity, which makes them open, as Bret points out, to blackmail and forces them to violate the military’s honor code.

My sense is that most younger military personnel are comfortable with gays serving openly — as is the majority of American society at large.  That makes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” inevitable and suggests that Republican opponents of the measure are fighting a losing battle.