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Repeal, One Year Later


Danny Ingram
President, American
Veterans For Equal Rights

The world did not end.  The United States Military did not collapse.  The dire predictions of the powerful and well-funded bulwark of anti-gay groups proved to be as false as they were for all the other national militaries that lifted their gay bans decades ago.  There have been no mass desertions, no mutinies, no harm to morale, mission, or recruitment.  Nothing.  Just as we said. 

AVER testified before Congress that the “best trained, most professional, and most disciplined fighting force in the history of our planet” would have no problem accepting open service by gay members of the military.  We were right.  Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of today’s military has been the deeply disturbing issue of sexual assault against women service members, a sad indication that undermines our claim that our fighting forces are above such challenges. 

Lifting the ban did nothing for transgender Americans who want to serve in the military.  That issue is in limbo and appears stalled, while discussions of what transgender service will look like seem to fade as the days go by, and issues of diversity not popular to pollsters get pushed aside in the midst of an election year.  AVER remains committed to transgender service.  We will leave no one behind.  Not today.  Not tomorrow.

The issue of LGB service members is crucial to the fight for marriage equality.  Proof that lifting the ban did not hurt the military, despite the ardent claims of the opposition, is precedent that allowing same-gender marriage will not harm the institution of legal union.  The issues of same-gender military families and their need for legal protections have drawn the attention of top military support organizations such as Joining Forces, First Lady Michelle Obama's support organization for military families.  Because members of the military are held in such high esteem by the American people, the need for LGB service members to protect their married spouses and dependents will help win the battle for marriage equality.  Our soldiers deserve all we can give them.  Same-gender marriage protection is something they need in order to defend our freedom along with their heterosexual counterparts without worrying if their families will be protected back home.  It’s an issue of justice and fairness.  It’s an American issue.

There are wrongs to be righted.  Many veterans, from World War II through Afghanistan, need to have their less-than-honorable discharges upgraded in order to access the benefits they earned from the VA.  The largest injustice is the pensions lost by honored members of the military who were discharged for being gay.  No one is discussing this issue.  Men and women who should be receiving just retirement for their service to our nation have been dishonorably denied the pensions they earned. 

But the first openly gay general has received her star, pinned on by her same-gender legal spouse.  The same-sex marine kiss “seen round the world” passed without incident, "it's your typical homecoming photo", in the words of the USMC.  The nation has changed.  One year later, an injustice that stood for a century is largely forgotten.  No major political candidates suggest reinstituting the ban. 

America has become more free.  The largest, most respected employer in the United States no longer discriminates against LGB Americans, at least as far the right to serve.  The precedent of having the highly honored institution of the US military clinging to a policy that discriminated against gay Americans no longer stands.  The path towards same-sex benefits and marriage equality has been made more open. 

Still, America needs to “evolve”, to borrow a popular phrase, not just on LGBT issues, but on issues of diversity in general.  America’s destiny to become the largest, most diverse society in human history to embrace equal rights, equal responsibilities, and equal respect for every citizen, should not be the battle of one minority after another.  The culture of America needs to change in regard to minorities, and the United States Constitution needs to be honored by every American, especially by elected officials and members of the military who have sworn an oath to defend it.  Americans need a better understanding and appreciation of what America is about and what it means to be an American. 

The passing of the ban is more than just a soon to be forgotten footnote in military history.  It should be remembered as a moment when America became more true to itself.  And the long battle to remove it should be noted as the unfortunate struggle to obtain what is already guaranteed by the constitution, the very document which America’s military exists to defend.  Most of all, it should be a reminder that “we’re not there yet” when it comes to diversity.  America’s destiny should not be the battle of one minority after another to gain the freedom already guaranteed to every citizen.  The dance must be open to all.  One year later, let those of us taking our first two-step not forget to invite others to the ball. 

  2012 Gay Military Signal, AVER Forward Observer