Last week, in his state of the union address, President Obama promised, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." That's no surprise coming from Obama, who promised on the campaign trail and soon after taking office to do away with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy implemented during the Clinton years. But promises made in speeches don't necessarily indicate immediate changes in rules and regulations.
But yesterday, speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Mullen commented:
[I]t is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.Of course, Mullen framed his commitment to loosening anti-gay and anti-lesbian policies in terms of how to "best make such a major policy change in a time of two wars." The admiral echoed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has established a working group to study the issue, take testimony and develop an approach for making the policy change. Speaking before the same committee, Gates acknowledged that "our approach may cause some to wonder why it will take the better part of the year to accomplish the task." That approach may raise fears that the issue will be committeed to death, with little accomplished in the end.
Then again, President Truman's racial desegregation of the military took two years to accomplish after his executive order to that effect was issued.
The United States is a latecomer to sexual integration of the military. According to the Palm Center at the University of California -- Santa Barbara, countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve in uniform (PDF) include:
While advocates of personal freedom will applaud a policy change that would bring the government closer to treating gays and straights equally, there is one potential downside. If -- or when -- the government next decides to force unwilling victims into uniform with a return to conscription, it will no longer be possible to escape the draft by claiming to be homosexual.