Let me start this post by stating I think Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell should be repealed, and that homosexuals should be free to serve openly in the military. I also think it’s shameful that people who have served their country honorably, and in some cases have risked their lives, have been discharged because of whom they choose to love. In cases like the linguists who were dismissed for their sexuality, DADT has also likely harmed national security.
That said, I find it interesting that military service became such a touchstone issue for gay rights. After gay marriage, it’s really the gay issue right now. I’m a white, straight male from suburban Indiana. So I haven’t suffered much discrimination in my life, save for rarely getting a foul call when I play pick-up basketball at the Y. (That’s a joke. It’s true. But it’s a joke.) But I’d think if I were a member of a group fighting for equal treatment, the right to go off to die in the pet war of whoever is currently occupying the White House would pretty low on my list of priorities. I’d think this would be especially true of the gay community which, if I may stereotype, I’d guess on average is less militaristic and gung-ho war than the general population. (If there’s data showing that I’m wrong here, I’m willing to be wrong here.)
Gay marriage is probably the only gay rights issue that gets more attention than DADT right now. And prioritizing gay marriage makes sense. But there’s comparably little coverage, debate, or discussion, for example, about laws against gay adoption, which it seems to me affect a much larger percentage of the gay community, deal with a much more basic right, and are quite a bit more damaging, both to gay parents who want kids and to the kids who legislators have decided are better off in a group home or rotating through foster homes than in stable homes with same sex parents. (Some of these laws bar adoption by unmarried parents gay or straight, but in states that forbid gay marriage, the effect is to bar gay people from adopting).
Or how about the fact that federal law basically bars private employers from offering the same health insurance benefits to domestic partners that they do to married hetero couples? Some companies do offer such benefits, but the employed partner is taxed at such an obscenely high rate for the partner’s benefit that the benefit becomes far more expensive than it’s worth. (I’m speaking from experience—I signed on for my ex-girlfriend’s former employer’s domestic partner health insurance benefit a few years ago, and we were surprised with a monster tax bill the next year. Even the company’s HR people weren’t aware of the penalty.). I should add here that I’d ideally like to see health insurance severed from employment. But if the tax benefit is there, it strikes me as patently unfair to give huge tax breaks to committed heterosexual couples, but effectively negate any efforts of private employers to offer committed homosexual couples the same benefit (domestic partners benefits are taxed as income on both the employer and employee side).
I guess my point is that there has been a lot of political capital spent on getting DADT repealed, and it seems to me that while the resulting benefit would be symbolic and obviously important to the gay servicemen and women who would be able to serve without being required to lie about who they are, the population of people directly effected seems to be comparably small.
This isn’t necessarily a criticism. I’m genuinely curious, and wondering if anyone has theories as to why this particular issue has become so heated.
MORE: Just to clarify, when I wrote “I’d think this would be especially true of the gay community which, if I may stereotype, I’d guess on average is less militaristic and gung-ho war than the general population,” I wasn’t referring to stereotypes about masculinity. I was referring to the fact (at least I think it’s a fact — a very cursory Google search seems to bear it out) that the gay community disproportionately aligns with the left, and gay activists with the far left, which I think would suggest that they’re more likely than the general population to be be both anti-war and generally anti-military. (If there are public opinion polls showing otherwise, show me!) My point is, given that, it seems counterintuitive that the right to openly serve in the military and fight in wars would become such a priority.
That said, I think the comments below about symbolism and the added insult of discrimination coming directly from the federal government make sense.