The Best People, Gay or Straight

December 06, 1992

On the campaign trail, Gov. Bill Clinton had this to say about ending the ban on homosexuals in the military: "If I'm elected president, I think my job, rather than to inquire about the private lives of people who might serve, is to get the best people I can to serve this country." This very simple guideline is often rejected or forgotten in the debate over the president-elect's reiteration that he will issue an executive order rescinding the ban.

Many opponents argue that the military should not be asked to put fairness above its mission to defend the nation. It is a good argument. While fairness is important, and while discrimination should not be encouraged in any public institution, of course policies that weaken the military's ability to carry out its mission should not be adopted.

But the military's anti-gay policy weakens rather than strengthens its readiness. For one thing, the ban costs money -- some half billion dollars in the 1980s (in terms of investigations, legal action and loss of training investment in dischargees). These are funds that could be used for far better purposes. Another and better criticism of the military's anti-gay policy is that it is an artificial qualification.

For example, suppose you were a soldier or Marine assigned to a dangerous task in which you needed sharpshooters to protect you. And suppose the best marksmen in your unit were unveiled as homosexuals and discharged -- leaving you to be protected by the second best riflemen. Is that in the best interest of the individual, the service or the nation? We don't think so.

Every other NATO force but Britain's has stopped banning homosexuals. This has not compromised their ability to fight. It is time the United States did this, too. In the coming age of a down-sized military, with competition for careers intense, it is in the nation's interest that "the best people" available get the jobs. The best riflemen, best pilots, best in every category. Patriotism, valor, dedication, various skills and aptitudes are all important, and all must be considered. The generals and admirals who say military service is a duty, a privilege and an honor but not a right are correct. But sexual orientation has nothing to do with one's ability to serve and to live up to that honor.

The senior officers who say the military cannot do its duty if the ban is lifted are wrong. It would not "break the force," as Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said last Monday in calling for an end to "emotionalism" in this debate.

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