Monday, December 20, 2010

Do Tell: From Sea to Shining Sea

Two of eight principled Republicans in the Senate
Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were among the eight Republican senators who voted on Saturday to repeal the failed, 17-year experiment with closeted military service, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The previous policy acknowledged that people could serve their country regardless of sexual orientation while condoning bias against those very same patriots. I have not yet seen the specific reasoning that led these senators to break with the majority of Republicans on this important vote, but for me it shows that they are actual conservatives, as opposed to the bigots and religious reactionaries who have captured much of the Grand Old Party. 

Brown and Murkowski were joined by Sens. Collins and Snow of Maine, Kirk of Illinois, Voinovich of Ohio, Ensign of Nevada, and Burr of North Carolina. Talk-radio pundits have written off Brown as a "captive" of Massachusetts, which they think is a liberal state (it really is not), but the rest of this list shows that civil rights is not just for coasts.

It is now time for another Republican Senator to apply the courage for which he is famous. I refer, of course, to Sen. John McCain, who fought bitterly in favor of continuing the failed DADT experiment. Fortunately, his wife Cindy is better informed and tried (unsuccessfully) to change his mind before the vote. Now it is my hope that she can help him understand that he still has a chance to be on the right side of history. Sen. McCain seems sincerely to have believed that uncloseting gay service members would lead to such conflict within units that it would literally cost lives. 

The senator's active duty was during a more homophobic period of our history, and this causes him to overestimate the danger posed by opening the closet. He is partly correct, however, in that significant bigotry remains, and some service members are likely to react badly as the closets open. The appropriate response, however, is not to wait until all bigotry has somehow evaporated. It is time to build on the progress that has been made so far, and for military and political leaders to exhibit the kind of leadership that was needed when President Truman integrated the military services with respect to race. If the Senator's assertion is at all correct, the McCains are in a position to enhance social justice and national security at the same time.

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