Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit in on a brief given by a Marine Corps unit in California regarding the repeal of the infamous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy implemented under the Clinton administration.
The bottom line was both simple and admirable: this is a non-negoitable issue. Your respect towards your fellow Marines is not a value-based order, and if you find yourself working with someone who is openly gay, you will be civil. Under federal law and under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, you will be actionably guilty if you harass or refuse to work with a gay service member.
So far, so good. Given the conservative, borderline dogmatic stances endorsed by the US military, a direct order to be respectful to gay men and women is actually progress.
Then it got ugly.
Because gay marriages are still denied by the preposterously named “Defense of Marriage” Act, and military members are answerable to the federal government, gay marriages will not be recognized by the military regardless of the state. I.e., if service members live and are stationed in MA, where gay marriage is legal, the government still will not recognize their union as legally binding.
This is an extremely discrimatory decision with momentous consequences. For example: the military will not allow a service member’s partner to live in military housing (allowed for heterosexual spouses). If a soldier’s partner is ill and must live near a certain hospital for continuacy of medical care, the military will not necessarily allow the soldier to be stationed nearby (a courtesy given to married heterosexuals). The military will not give dependency pay for a child in a homosexual relationship if the child is not biological or legally adopted (in heterosexual unions, the military pays an extra stipend per child; the child of a soldier’s wife from a previous marriage is legally recognized as a dependent of the soldier).
If- and this is truly infuriating- a gay servicemember’s partner is in an accident and is in critical condition, the military will not allow emergency leave for the servicemember to visit his or her partner (except in instance of critical shortage of personnel, as in a combat zone under seige or similar, emergency leave is always granted for a heterosexual soldiers to stay with injured or dying family/spouses).
Legally the repeal of DADT leaves a lot to be desired.
There is also the question of the troups regarding open homosexuals among their ranks. The majority of Marines I spoke to (admittedly an unofficial sort of survey) expressly said they couldn’t care less- many stated they have worked with homosexual servicemembers for years without incident. And then there’s those bound by prejudice. One non-commissioned officer told the Commanding Officer he would refuse to grapple (wrestle, a common form of physical training in the Marine Corps) with a gay Marine.
To this, a young female Marine stood and stated that she would be extremely offended if a man refused to grapple her because of a perceived sexual tension; she goes to martial arts classes for the sole purpose of training, not for “some kind of strange physical gratification.” Her point was very clear: the Marine Corps cannot deny a member training based on orientation any more than on gender. The idea that a gay man would sexually enjoy wrestling is both homophobic, egocentric, and reduces a homosexual servicemember’s character to one aspect of his identity.
Tentatively, however, the general reaction was less resistent than right-wing pundits had predicted. Much like the resistence that met black men entering the military, and again when women began to serve in a combat capacity (as they have, if unofficially, for years), it seems rather likely the initial pseudo-righteous indignation of some straight servicemembers will eventually fade to a non-issue.