WASHINGTON -- Military experts and social conservatives are criticizing President Obama's goal of allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military, saying the armed forces' inherently close quarters would make any change in policy similar to forcing male and female personnel to live together.
The current policy also, they say, makes common sense.
Obama said during his State of the Union address Wednesday that "this year" he 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."
"It's the right thing to do," he added.
Obama's position on the issue was no surprise -- he campaigned on a pledge to reverse the policy -- but his inclusion of it in the State of the Union puts the issue back on the national stage. A bill that would overturn the current policy (often referred to as Don't Ask, Don't Tell) has been introduced in the House and has 188 sponsors or co-sponsors, nearly all of them Democrats. It is H.R. 1283. A bill needs 218 votes to pass if all members are present. Several House Democrats, though, have been vocal in their opposition to the bill, including Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi. A bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate but likely will be.
Obama cannot overturn the policy himself because in 1993 Congress -- reacting to President Clinton's desire to allow homosexuals to serve openly -- passed a law prohibiting homosexual service. It codified existent military policy. The 1993 law says allowing homosexuals to serve openly "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." It also said "there is no constitutional right to serve in the armed forces."
Some liberal groups have pitched an alternative solution, saying Obama simply could issue an order preventing the law from being enforced. Supporters of the policy say such an order would be a violation of Obama's oath of office to defend existing laws.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which supports the current policy, said allowing homosexuals to serve openly would be "tantamount to saying that men would have access to cohabit with female soldiers and personnel in conditions with little or no privacy." The current policy, she said, makes common sense.
"We can pretend that human beings are like machines, that sexuality doesn't matter, that people are perfect, that they don't make mistakes. But that would be wrong," she told Baptist Press. "Good policy in the military recognizes human failings."
She added, "[In the military] you live with people 24/7. This would affect all military communities, including submarines, special operations forces, infantry battalions. You can't have separation for four different sexual groups, but that's in essence what some people have talked about. Or we'll have to treat it like [we would] forcing women to accommodate men in their private quarters, showers and the like. That's not workable."
The House bill not only would allow homosexuals to serve openly but would add "sexual orientation" to the military non-discrimination policy. The bill defines sexual orientation as "heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality, whether the orientation is real or perceived." Donnelly believes the bill would lead to sensitivity training for military members.
Obama may find resistance in the military itself. A Military Times survey of subscribers released in December 2008 found that 58 percent of active military personnel oppose repealing the current policy. Additionally, if the policy is overturned, nearly 10 percent said "I would not re-enlist or extend my service" while another 14 percent said "I would consider not re-enlisting or extending my service." A 2006 Zogby poll found only 26 percent of military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan supported overturning the current policy. Additionally, more than 1,100 retired officers last year signed a letter saying they support the current policy and oppose its reversal. Signing it were two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Henry Shelton (1997-2001) and John W. Vessey (1982-85).
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a Marine veteran, told BP he found Obama's desire to "impose homosexual behavior" on the military very troubling.
"We should be doing everything we can to bolster our military and strengthen it, not use it as a place of social experimentation," Perkins said.
Asked his thoughts on opinion polls that show the public supportive of overturning current policy, Perkins said, "Most members of Congress have not served in the military and most of the public has not either. They have a hard time understanding the environment. When I was in the Marine Corps there were 60 of us in a squad bay. You shower together. That's a problematic environment [if the policy is changed to allow homosexuals to serve openly]."
Congress actually made a nearly identical argument in 1993, saying in its findings that "the potential for involvement of the armed forces in actual combat routinely" makes it necessary "for members of the armed forces involuntarily to accept living conditions and working conditions that are often spartan, primitive, and characterized by forced intimacy with little or no privacy."
"The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service," the findings stated.
The policy became known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell in part because the military no longer asked recruits on the front end if they are homosexual.
"The initiative to try to do away with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military is wrongheaded and will cause serious disruption in our armed forces," Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told BP. "We have an all-volunteer military, and it is the best in the world. I am told by Southern Baptists serving in our military anywhere from corporal to colonel that attempts to implement such a policy would lead to massive resignations from our military forces, particularly in the non-commissioned officer ranks.
"To subject our military to this kind of politically correct, social experimentation while we are engaged in two wars and face dire security threats is incomprehensible, foolish and dangerous."
Obama's opponent in the 2008 race, veteran and Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., released a statement saying "it would be a mistake to repeal the policy."
"This successful policy has been in effect for over fifteen years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels," McCain said. "We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy."