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What Does ‘Openly Gay’ Military Service Mean and Does It Matter?

Posted on March 1 2010 10:00 am
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A reader (Edmund Scott) asks a fair (albeit ultimately irrelevant) question, I think, about “openly gay military service.”

What is meant by serving “openly”? Are we to assume that gays in the military will be having sex in the showers, in the barricks beds, on the parade ground? Surely not. Surely not anymore than such activity would not be appropriate for heterosexual members of the armed forces.

But, if not, what then? Too many words with general meanings are being thrown about without specific meanings being attached. Each group and each individual has is own interperatation of what “serving openinly” actually will mean. Could someone help me with this?

Absolutely. Serving openly as a gay man or woman means being legally recognized and affirmed as either a lesbian or a homosexual.

That matters because of the special legal privileges and protections such a status will accord to gay men and women — and because of the corresponding infringement upon the rights of religious believes and cultural traditionalists that is sure to follow.

Openly gay military service also matters, I think, because of what it likely will mean, long-term, for the integrity and viability of the military culture.

Indeed, I don’t doubt that gay men and women can be excellent soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines; quite the contrary. I think gay men and women can and do serve with great honor and distinction.  But what happens to the U.S. military if and when it becomes known as a hospitable redoubt for lesbians and homosexuals? It would be naive and shortsighted to think that that won’t have an effect on the military culture, recruiting and retention.

As to behavior, of course the military will guard against the most egregious excesses of sexual misconduct.

But the reality is that, just as women on ships at sea have resulted in a sexualized military culture, so too will openly gay military service do the same. For as much as we’d like to think that men and women can be perfectly rational automatons, the reality is that they are not and cannot be robots or vulcans. We are human, and we are sentient beings.

A sexualized military culture may not matter much to the Navy, since the Navy really isn’t fighting anyone. However, a sexualized military culture can be quite literally deadly for our ground combat units.

In short openly gay military service matters not because of any behavior it might or might not condone or allow. Openly gay military service matters because of its legal and cultural implications irrespective of behavior. At issue, I think, is whether further sexualizing the military culture is a good idea that will enhance military readiness and combat effectiveness. I think not.

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