No 'Pressure,' But Anti-Gay Lawmaker's Bill Might Stir Up Problems

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 5 MIN.

An anti-gay lawmaker's bill, if enacted, seems destined to create the very problems that critics of the military's full integration have warned of, a Sept. 8 ThinkProgress article said.

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California introduced his bill, titled the "Don't Pressure Me!" act, ostensibly as a means of offering "conscience protections" to troops who object to gays and lesbians. But ThinkProgress suggested that the lawmaker might have another agenda at work.

"Imagine a bill like this defending some other form of intolerance," the ThinkProgress article read. "What about if troops were legally protected from pressure to approve of a person eating Cajun food? Or speaking Chinese? Or practicing Islam? Or having a menstrual cycle? 'Conscience protections' is religious code for 'protected prejudice.' "

Congress voted late last year to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the 1993 law that stipulated that gays and lesbians could only serve their nation in uniform as long as they kept their true sexual orientation a closely guarded secret. The repeal process was to proceed only after the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all certified that the military was ready for full integration of openly gay and lesbian troops.

Critics quickly became overheated, warning that the Armed Forces would become one big gay party, with rampant sex and sexual harassment the order of the day. None of those feverish fantasies seemed poised to come true as the military's preparations continued, but anti-gay lawmakers still made various attempts to delay or derail implementation of the law's repeal.

Such machinations proceeded against the will of an overwhelming majority. Even before Congress voted to repeal DADT, three-quarters of the American public favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve their country openly.

Hunter himself proposed amending the repeal legislation in various ways, including proposing a requirement that in addition to the President, Defense Secretary, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the heads of each of the four major branches of the military also certify the military's readiness.

The military itself, however, seemed perfectly ready to proceed. In recent years, gay and lesbian troops have been increasingly open about their sexual orientation without sparking any meltdowns in discipline and good order. A massive survey conducted by the Pentagon showed that most servicemembers were unworried about their gay and lesbian comrades in arms emerging from the closet while still in uniform. Moreover, advocates for repeal have produced a steady parade of gay servicemembers who have distinguished themselves in the performance of their military duties, including combat situations.

Despite the military's overall readiness to embrace openly gay and lesbian troops, Hunter, a Marine veteran, authored the new proposal, which purports to ensure that "members of the Armed Forces are not pressured to approve of another person's sexual conduct if that sexual conduct is contrary to the personal principles of that member."

"Essentially, this would mean that military people have to accept the presence of gays in the military but they would not have to like it, said an aide familiar with the legislation," an Aug. 30 article in the Army Times reported.

Since it is impossible to legislate people's feelings, the bill is generally seen as protecting the right of homophobic servicemembers to voice anti-gay beliefs and sentiments aloud without facing disciplinary action.

"It is a legitimate concern, under the circumstances, with the services working on disciplinary policies for people who don't agree with this decision," an unnamed House aide told the Army Times. "The military always falls in line, but that doesn't mean that the men and women who serve in its ranks should suddenly be forced to personally accept something that is contrary to their own principles," the aide went on to say.

The bill drew heavy criticism from ThinkProgress.

"The biggest objection to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was the prediction that it would somehow hurt unit cohesion, because apparently heterosexual men are brave enough to risk their lives for their country but not enough to take a shower next to a gay guy," the article read.

"Though the argument intended to paint gay troops as predatory, it essentially expressed distrust in the non-gay troops, that they wouldn't have the fortitude to fight next to someone who wasn't equally as straight. Hunter's bill not so subtly encourages that predicted decay in unit cohesion by promoting dissension, urging those who are homophobic to prioritize their 'principles' of disapproval over the stability of their unit.

"Opponents of DADT repeal want to be able to say it was a bad idea by making their own argument comes true," the ThinkProgress article added.

Towleroad reported on the story on Sept. 2, and offered a similar interpretation as to Hunter's intentions.

"The bill he has introduced this time actually seeks to ensure homophobia has a place in the U.S. military, and directly contradicts concerns about the repeal disrupting unit cohesion by introducing a measure that would do just that," the Towleroad article said.

The Daily Kos offered its own sarcastic take on the proposal.

"This is getting really pathetic," the Sept. 6 posting read. "Since they've lost the battle to keep gays out of the military, bigots are really grasping at straws to find some way to keep something on the books that says gay people totally suck. And with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell about to take effect, I guess the best they can come up with is this never-gonna-pass law to protect straight people from having to like gay people. Because this is, apparently, a major threat facing our military."

Anti-gay group the Family Research Council threw its weight behind the bill, encouraging its followers to contact their lawmakers in support of the measure.

"These 'conscience protections' would give our troops just as much right to voice their opinions as others have to flaunt their sexuality," the FRC claimed, before going on to add, "Our troops promised to obey orders -- not surrender principles."

Similar rhetoric preceded the end of anti-gay service bans in the militaries of America's Western allies, all of which have long ago retired such restrictions. In Britain, foes of allowing gays to serve openly predicted disciplinary problems, a flight of heterosexual servicemembers, and increased difficulty in recruitment. None of those things happened.

America's fighting forces may have become acclimated to some extent to working with gay fellow servicemembers through joint operations with allied soldiers,

Final repeal of DADT is expected to come into effect on Sept. 20.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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