YOUR SAY: Change needed in military, but careful planning essential

Congress just passed and the president will most certainly sign into law a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I want to say up front that I believe the policy was wrong from the beginning. It was wrong because it mandated as a condition of service some personnel to lie about or at least hide a fundamental part of who they are. This is a direct contradiction of the basic values of honesty and integrity we demand of all our service members. The penalty for being honest about their sexuality was a discharge under less than honorable conditions.

The policy came about because a former president and senior leaders were faced with the dilemma of whether to uphold the long-standing policy that homosexuality is incompatible with military service or to declare that sexual orientation is irrelevant. The case for incompatibility was a lost cause because it was well-known that gays and lesbians had served with distinction for generations. The “cop out” position selected was “don’t, ask don’t tell,” which tacitly acknowledged the fact that homosexuals have been and are a valuable part of our military, but we don’t want to know about it or deal with it.

Although I have not seen the actual text of the law, I have heard several reports that it contains language that specifies a 60-day delay before implementation. I’m sure there will be some who will ask why the delay. Their position will most likely be to finally declare that sexual orientation is no different than any other genetically predetermined characteristic like race, ethnicity, height, hair color, etc and get on with the immediate implementation. The reason we need some time to implement the change to policy lies in the old saying, “the devil is in the details.” In this case I would substitute the word “challenge” for “devil.” In my opinion, there are a multitude of questions and circumstances that will result and they need to be discussed, and more important, policies and guidance established prior to them surfacing in the field.

These are in my opinion just a few of the issues. Will the military recognize the right of gays and lesbians to be married? We don’t even have a consensus in the civilian world on this issue. Will the military recognize “domestic partnerships” with all the rights and privileges of married service members? Along this line, if you allow domestic partnerships, will it just be for homosexual partnerships or can heterosexual couples apply for this status, and if not, why are they being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation? There are many more questions like these that need to be thought out.

The point I’m trying to make is that even though I agree with this change, it would be a mistake to implement it without some careful thought and planning. I also hope that the “team” that is tasked to develop the implementation policies is not just a group of senior civilian and military leaders. In my opinion, it should include rank and file military members of both orientations to not only help identify the issues but to provide a “sanity check” to the recommended policies. Too many times, new policies are developed by people who appear to have strong credentials based on their background but don’t have a clue about life as it exists in the “field” today. If it is done right, it is my belief that our military can move forward with policies that not only permit but enhance the opportunities for all to serve their country. — Dave Smith is a resident of Warner Robins.