During President Barack Obama's recent State of the Union address, he suggested repeal of the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding homosexuals in the military. Basically, the policy prohibits gay men and women from serving the United States in the military, but during the speech, President Obama said it was time to abandon this controversial policy.
Gay rights groups are applauding the move, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already announced his support for the repeal of the policy, including beginning inquiries and outlining procedures for the repeal.
Many say that allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military would hurt morale. However, a recent poll indicated that nearly 70% of the American people favor allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the United States armed forces. Some have even likened this debate to the one surrounding the introduction of female soldiers into combat, saying that weapons are just as deadly when used by a homosexual as when used by a "straight" soldier, and that sexual orientation should not be used as a criteria for enlistment.
However, potential gay soldiers will have to wait a while before enlisting. The current plan to lay groundwork for a repeal of the policy will take more than a year, according to Secretary of Defense Bill Gates. However, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates also stated that the Defense Department will begin to enforce the policy "in a fairer manner."
The policy as currently being enforced prohibits openly gay individuals from serving in the U.S. military, but also precludes the military asking about a particular soldier's sexual orientation. Attempts were made to contact the Iowa Army National Guard, to gauge opinion of the plan and its potential impact on recruiting and retention rates for the Guard, not only in Iowa but across the country, but emails were not returned. Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for repealing the policy rests with Congress, but there is at the present time no indication which way Congress would vote. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, said that in 2009, only 428 discharges occurred because of the DADT policy, and he added that "during wartime, DADT is not being pursued aggressively because one's orientation has nothing to do with their ability to fight."
However, some who oppose the move state that a soldier is different from civilian life. They cite discomfort due to the close living conditions inherent to a military barracks, or the difficulties with showering when a gay man or woman is in the same shower area, not to mention being in the close quarters of a pup tent or foxhole. Obviously, this issue will not be solved easily, or quickly; and the emotions stirred up during the inevitable debate could rival discussions of the civil rights movement of the 1960's.