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Defending Donít Ask Donít Tell


Michael Rankin, M.D.
, Capt., MC, USN (Ret.)

"Hoisting him on his own petard." Itís an archaic phrase, rarely used. But I believe itís exactly what I did as a member of a March 12, 2008, panel of military officers from around the world, held at Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C. I spoke as a "devilís advocate," defending a policy I opposed all my twenty-four years in the Navy, and after I retired.

I knew many gay and lesbian sailors and Marines in those twenty-four years, but I will never forget the first. He was very young, about 17, from a hardscrabble farm in West Virginia. When he "confessed" his homosexuality to me in sick bay, his main concern was that God would condemn him for his feelings toward men, feelings he had never acted upon. I told him that wasnít the way I understood God worked in the world, but we were from different religious backgrounds. I would send him to see someone from his own faith tradition.

Our shipís chaplain would have handled it beautifully, but he was on leave, so I sent him to the base chaplain, a man Iíd never met. He confirmed the sailorís worst fearsóGod would indeed send him to hell for these feelings. Believing he faced a lifetime of struggle and guilt, the seaman attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized.

I tried always to be a sympathetic listener and a caring physician to those who sought me out, both on my ships and with my Marine units. If a gay sailor or Marine wanted to stay in the service, I tried to help him or her do so. If a discharge was inevitable, I suggested ways of making it an honorable one.

In l992, Bill Clinton was elected president, and in l993 he sought to end the ban against active service. I had been Clintonís Commissioner of Mental Health in Arkansas his first term as governor, and had found him to be gay affirming, completely free of homophobia. I was not the only openly gay member of his cabinet. I urged him to do all he could to allow open service.

The ban was not lifted. "Donít Ask Donít Tell" was supposedly a compromise, but, it took little time for military officials to begin the witch hunts which persist to this day. From l993, and especially after I retired from the Navy in l996, I joined my fellow veterans and others seeking to overturn the policy.

But when nobody could be found to speak in favor of "Donít Ask Donít Tell" on Colonel Fieldís panel, at least not without a $5,000 speakerís fee, I volunteered to do so as a "devilsí advocate."

I told the audience I could speak in fairness to the policyís supporters only if I quoted them exactly, using their own words. Since time was limited, I would concentrate on their two greatest concerns: the values-religion issue and unit cohesion.

For the values discussion, I used an excerpt from a Veterans Day sermon given by an active duty chaplain at a conservative mega-church in Mississippi.

Speaking in uniform, an impressive array of ribbons his chest, the chaplain began on a high note: "My friends, the homosexuals are at it again. This time their agenda is to force the military to accept practicing homosexuals. I know you are as outraged by this as I am. Serve with a homosexual? Iíd sooner serve with the whore of Babylon! Having a homosexual in your barracks, in your battalion, on your Navy ship, is like having a babyís dirty diaper on your dinner plate!"

."Friends, we read in the book of Genesis that God created Adam and Eve. We do not read that God created Adam and Steve. Godís judgment on homosexuals is right there in the book of Leviticus, Chapter 18, Verse 22: Ď you shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination!í An abomination, my friends! An abomination!"

"Yet when I point this out to the liberals and ACLU types, I can hear their snickers; I see their smirks and raised eyebrows. I feel their mocking.

"You should not use the Bible to make decisions about our military," they say. "There are men from many faith traditions in our armed forces. Your way of believing is not everyoneís way of believing. Your values are not everyoneís values. You must respect everyoneís religious beliefs."

"My friends, itís true that not everyone is saved. But if they demand that we respect their values, why can they not also respect ours? Why do they object to our calling our Pentagon ministry "The Pentagonóa Christian Embassy?í Thatís exactly what we want it to be! And why do they belittle our chaplains who consider our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan a God-given opportunity to bring Moslems to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ? We battle every hour of every day against the homosexuals and their allies. And my friends, they are powerful, more powerful than you can imagine!"

If only we were.

Unit cohesion: three years ago I debated Elaine Donnelly and her military supporters at the National Defense University at Ft. McNair here in Washington. A retired Marine 06 was the most vocal in his demand that we keep and strengthen the ban. Afterward, he gave me a copy of his statement, with his notes in the margin, in case I missed something he said. I heard him loud and clear.

"Captain Rankin agrees with us that unit cohesion is important, that soldiers and Marines have to trust those they fight alongside. But he assures us that in the militaries of other countries, where they allow homosexuals to serve openly, unit cohesion has not been adversely affected. I seriously doubt that. Iíve spoken to senior officers in those countries who say it has been adversely affected, very much so.

But even if it hasnít, we are not other countries. We are the United States of America. Our young men are not hanging out in the bars of the Yorkville section of Toronto. They are not dating actors from the West End theaters in London, or prancing up the street in womenís clothes at homosexual festivals in Sydney. They are not congregating on nude beaches in Tel Aviv, trying to pick up an Israeli soldier.

No. Our military men are from the farm towns of the Central Valley of California, from Cleveland, Atlanta, and Dallas, from small cities in the south and mid-west. And they are aghast when they are told they have to sleep next to some flamer from Greenwich Village or the Castro. They know they have to watch their backs in the showers with these guys, so they wonít be assaulted. Itís stressful enough just being in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why add to that stress? Donít they deserve better?"

The "devil" rested his case, and invited comments from the other panelists.

©  2008  Gay Military Signal