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Don't Ask, Don' Tell: The Question No One Asked

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Kerry Believed Vietnam Colleagues Would Have ‘Fragged’ Gay Commanding Officer

Don’t Ask, Don’ Tell: The Question No One Asked

The presidential debates covered many questions, but the issue of homosexuality in the military was not one of them. That is unfortunate, since voters should know where the two presidential candidates stand on this and other forms of social engineering in the military. The record of President George W. Bush is not perfect, but the doctrinaire views of his rival, Sen. John Kerry, are cause for serious concern.

In 1993, Senator John Kerry cast his vote on the losing side of a veto-proof, bipartisan (63-33) vote against President Bill Clinton’s plan to accommodate homosexuals in the military. But Kerry did more than that–he was a leading advocate of the controversial view that professed homosexuals should serve in uniform.

On May 7, 1993, Sen. Kerry testified on the issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA). The official record of his statement begins with the lofty rhetoric of the civil rights, followed by elitist and sometimes disdainful attitudes toward anyone disagreeing with him. “√?¬Ę√Ę‚??¬¨ ¬¶Now, take the issue of living in close quarters and communal showers,” said the Senator. “I suspect some of the guys who most fear being approached by gay men also consider themselves irresistible to heterosexual women, and they are probably sadly mistaken on both counts, Mr. Chairman.”

Maintaining that hetero- and homosexual conduct are essentially the same, Kerry said that displays of affection and social activities considered appropriate for one type of couple should be permitted for both, but not explicit and offensive sexual activity in public. Replied Chairman Nunn, “You just changed the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There is no provision in there that says anything about open and public.” Kerry said he realized that, but it would not be necessary to change the UCMJ because “Senator, it is not enforced today.” Senator Nunn strongly disagreed.

Warming to the subject, Kerry set a new standard for stridency in accusing anyone who disagreed with him of being motivated by “licensed hate.” That insult prompted Sen. James Exon (D-NE) to bluntly ask Kerry how his own Vietnam-era colleagues might have reacted if they were asked to follow the lead of a gay commanding officer. Kerry answered, “Well, if you just plunked them down one day and said here is your new lieutenant and he is gay, I suspect they might have fragged him like they fragged a lot of other lieutenants back then.”

Kerry also displayed his current tendency to set forth a doctrinaire position, followed by misleading equivocation. In a convoluted statement that seemed to equate homosexuals with disruptive atheists or “raving revolutionaries,” Kerry seemed to suggest that a person whose presence disturbs others in, for example, a deployed Navy SEAL unit, could be excluded in order to protect unit cohesion. (In extreme cold and wet conditions SEALS must sometimes huddle skin-to-skin, in training as well as in combat, to maintain body heat.) But exempting Navy SEALs from Defense Department policy would be unworkable and inconsistent with Kerry’s stated ideological goals.

At that point Senator Nunn and current Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-VA) asked Kerry what he would do with military personnel who were taught by their parents and ministers that “the gay lifestyle is wrong.” Kerry replied that the military would have to counter such feelings–even if they are rooted in religious values learned at home–in the same way that it teaches racial and religious tolerance.

Sen. Warner disagreed with the premise, and Chairman Nunn concurred, saying: “It is not the same thing for an awful lot of people in this country, [based] on their moral beliefs and their religious beliefs.” The Massachusetts Senator seemed unconcerned that the primary purpose of the military is to defend the country, not to change the moral values of men and women who volunteer to serve.

During subsequent hearings Congress considered President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” proposal–the idea that gays could serve in the military as long as they did not say they were homosexual. Congress rightly rejected that unworkable concept, and instead enacted a law that excludes homosexuals from the military. Specific findings listed in the statute recognize the unique hardships of military life, and acknowledge the element of “forced intimacy,” which distinguishes it from most civilian occupations.

Simply stated, the law embodies respect for human feelings and the power of sexuality. It affirms that servicemen and women should not be forced to expose themselves, in quarters offering little or no privacy, to persons who might be sexually attracted to them. The statute assigns highest priority to good order and discipline, and codifies pre-Clinton policy that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” The only compromise made was to drop “the question” about homosexuality, which used to appear on induction forms. The inquiry can and should be restored at any time.

President Clinton signed the 1993 law, but must have done so with his fingers crossed behind his back. Within weeks Clinton issued regulations to enforce his own “don’t ask, don’t tell” concept, holding that “homosexuality is personal and private√?¬Ę√Ę‚??¬¨ ¬¶and not a bar to military service.” The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted in 1996 that these regulations are inconsistent with congressional intent.

The Bush Administration has enforced the law, but also confused the issue by retaining expendable “don’t ask, don’t tell” enforcement regulations. That situation can be remedied, but only if the voters elect a Commander in Chief who respects the law and the principles behind it. Everyone can serve their country in some way, but not everyone is eligible to serve in the armed forces.

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Written By

Ms. Donnelly is a former member of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces and President of the Center for Military Readiness.

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