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The Devil in the Details


Denny Meyer

Human history is replete with revolutions demanding change and when at last change came it often wasn't what had been hoped for.  That is one of the reasons that people fear change, aside from their being prejudiced and selfish.  In the Middle East, there are currently people-power revolutions demanding democracy; but the fear is that they may instead end up with repressive fundamentalist religious regimes.

Here at home in America there are two competing revolutions, one pressing for progress on rights, and the other pushing backward as hard as possible.  That sort of conflict, in our convoluted political system, often results in unfortunate compromises such as the DADT policy which was enacted in 1993 to simultaneously both allow and disallow patriotic gay Americans to serve in our armed forces.  In brief, it said that homosexuals may serve as long as they never let anyone know that they are gay.  You don't have to be an idiot or a genus to hear that and have trouble understanding it, because it made no sense at all.  And yet, our nation's leaders at that time stood in public in front of TV cameras with "straight" faces and declared it to be a great achievement.

Seventeen years of convoluted chaos ensued during which more than fourteen thousand patriotic volunteers were discriminatively discharged, mostly honorably, due to being homosexuals.  So, they were considered to have served "honorably" and yet be not fit to serve?  Lives and careers were destroyed by those discharges, and unit cohesion was constantly disrupted by the removal of highly trained and respected members.

In 2005, Congressman Marty Meehan introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (MREA) which would have repealed DADT and enacted detailed laws against discrimination in our armed forces, among other provisions.  It was introduced twice more but never went anywhere, of course, due to conservatives who lived to prey on prejudice.  Perversely, it also included a provision that stated that the Act in no way would require the provision of partner benefits due to the prohibitions inherent in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), apparently in a vain attempt to appease the bigots on the right.

This past December, the "compromise" bill that was eventually passed just before Christmas, which authorized the repeal of DADT, was brief and stripped of all the detailed protections and provisions that had been written into MREA, EXCEPT for that damn exclusion of partner benefits prohibited by DOMA.

So, now we are in the transition period as the Pentagon prepares the troops for serving alongside people they've been serving alongside all along.  They are engaged in one of the most massive "training" programs ever by our military.  Roughly two million members of our armed forces are being presented with PowerPoint slide shows, written educational materials, live lectures, and maybe even comic books written at the sixth grade level of comprehension.  Imagining the stuffy bureaucratic style of past U.S. Armed Forces training materials could make this hilarious if it weren't so damn serious.  I get sick just thinking about some middle aged martinet, promoted above his level of competence, trying to lead a discussion on the topic.  "Men... uh I mean, men, today we are going to learn about h h h, hom uh er, g g gays  (by this time he's beet red and sweating, of course)..."  Meanwhile, his much younger audience is choking to death, and pissing in their pants, trying to keep from laughing their asses off.  They don't need the discussion; they've known gay peers all their lives and have served in combat with us.  Oh dear!  What a gargantuan and unnecessary task!

Meanwhile, the DoD is grappling with establishing policies regarding all the details that were left out of the bill that was passed.  Will those reentering the service, after having been booted out under DADT, get credit for time in service and grade?  Will there be a fast track for discharge upgrades and documentation reissued without "due to homosexuality" poisonously emblazoned for potential civilian employers to see?  How can newly equal members of our armed forces still be denied equal benefits such as on base family housing, family sick leave, family medical benefits and education, family this and family that?  Many of these issues are described in a mid February article in the Washington Post. As the article notes, pending new DoD policies state, that "harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is unacceptable," among other details being developed.

From my perspective, the Pentagon is determined to do its best to deal with these details as fairly as possible.  They have listed some benefits that can be designated by service members regardless of their relationship to the beneficiary and, as noted above, discrimination will not be tolerated.  Is that just as good as Executive Orders or laws enacted by Congress requiring equality and prohibiting discrimination? No, it's not.

Other federal agencies have found ways to make exceptions to some implied bans on partner benefits based on DOMA; and there are Executive Orders and laws prohibiting discrimination that apply in those civilian agencies.  But, thus far the Pentagon has been left on its own to try to create full equality out of thin air for newly emancipated gay and lesbian patriotic volunteers serving in our armed forces. 

Demands are rising for Executive Orders and Congressional legislation to provide equal protection in our military.  Will that happen?  Well, I said that I'd eat my combat boots if DADT were repealed last December;  I'm not making any more predictions.  However, there is hope for equality; as of this writing, the Obama Administration has announced that the President and Department of Justice will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); thus paving the way for possible equal benefits.

We have been celebrating the incredible repeal of DADT; but, we're not done; inequality demanded by bigots remains the law of the land.  Transgender troops, serving openly without difficulty in our allied nations for over a decade, must still suffer remaining hidden here.  An American solider, shot and wounded, recovering at Ramstein, will have the joy of his spouse being flown out to be with him; but not if he's married to a same sex partner.  His blood and Purple Heart are the same colors as those of the guy in the next bed.  Tell that to your conservative congressman before you think the campaign for our rights is done.

  2011 Gay Military Signal