Saturday, January 24, 2009
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Bearing Unexpected Fruit - Clinton's Questionable Order Deserves a New Look
Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton changed the policy on homosexuals in the military and angered virtually everyone in America. Conservatives who didn't think our boys should be forced to share barracks with gays were outraged that Clinton was letting them into the military at all; gay-rights supporters were equally upset by what they perceived as a cop-out that allowed homosexuals to serve in the military but still said it wasn't quite okay and that they'd better keep quiet about it.
But cultural change doesn't happen overnight: it usually happens in baby steps. A representative said earlier this week that President Barack Obama would change that policy. He said it unequivocally.
But more interesting than the announcement itself was the context in which I saw it announced. This brief introduction on Opposing Views reveals that President Obama is operating in a very different cultural context from that in which the Clinton order took effect.
That introduction says in part:
"Don't ask, don't tell" prohibits anyone who "demonstrate(s) a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the armed forces of the United States, as it "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." This policy of forbidding homosexuals to disclose their sexual orientation has proven extremely controversial over the years, and now it looks as though its days might be numbered.
Of course, if you were politically aware in the 90s, you know that's not entirely true--"don't ask, don't tell" scaled back a previous military policy that simply didn't allow homosexuals to serve, period. And a lot of Americans thought that was outrageous. In less than two decades, the debate has changed radically--the idea that homosexuals shouldn't be serving in the military has given way to a debate over how that should occur. That's a big change for a relatively short period in history.
Maybe it's time for everyone--including the Clinton camp, which has long acknowledged "don't ask, don't tell" as a misstep--needs to re-evaluate the order in its historical context and think of it as a foundation.