Let me finish tonight with the question of open service in the U.S. military. I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” was probably destined to be an intermediate solution in the debate between those who supported and those who opposed open service. The premise was that a gay person would agree to a strange compact on joining the military services. A gay person would be allowed to serve as other Americans but only if he or she didn’t say they were gay, if they didn’t declare their sexual orientation in some other direct way. The problem, as has been explained on this show, is that this “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule didn’t apply to straight soldiers. They could come back from a weekend pass full of romantic exploits, sharing them for all to hear. The gay soldier or sailor would have to keep quiet on what he or she did over the weekend. To do otherwise would be to violate the compact. “Don’t tell” has meant just that, don’t tell. My hunch, having never served in the military myself, is that soldiers learned not to “ask” gay soldiers questions about their lives for the simple reason that it would require them to “tell” – which is grounds for discharge. So the U.S. Senate is on the verge of dumping “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Open service is very much in prospect primarily because the American public has changed its mind on this matter. Never has it changed its mind so quickly, so dramatically. The social acceptability of anti-gay bias is rapidly diminishing, just as it did in the years after World War II toward Catholics and also for Jewish people, and sadly, only gradually for African-Americans. Military service was one reason prejudice began to die. It’s hard to deny a person full acceptance when you know first-hand how they have given for our country. Here, today, we have the case of a group of Americans ready to fight for their country — openly and with full pride in who they are. As I said, the American people have never changed their minds so quickly. Perhaps the reasons are not so different from the reasons why wartime in the 1940s saw such a shift in national attitudes. Perhaps one powerful reason for the acceptance of gay fighting men and women is the obvious desire of so many gay people today wanting to serve their country in uniform at a time when such service is extremely perilous.
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Why 'don't ask, don't tell' must go