Fighting Gays

GARRY WILLS

February 02, 1993|By GARRY WILLS

Chicago. -- Judge Terry Hatter of the U.S. District Court in central California has ruled that discrimination against gays in the military is unconstitutional. He said the discrimination is ''based on cultural myths and false stereotypes.''

What is the stereotypical gay? I suppose it is the limp-wristed interior decorator. If that myth contained the whole reality of homosexual life, the military would justifiably want to keep gays out of its service, where strength and aggressiveness are encouraged and rewarded.

But many armies have been known for their homosexuality, and they seemed very good at fighting. In fact, those who most often invoke traditional Western cultural values should remember that they took their origin from the Greek struggle with Persia at the beginning of the 5th century B.C.

Who were the champions of the West at that fatal moment? The famously homosexual soldiers of Sparta made their death stance at Thermopylae. And Athenians won the battle of Marathon.

The best authority on ancient Greek homosexuality, K.J. Dover, said it was the generation of Marathon, the generation of Aeschylus, who fought in the war against Persia, that was most )) accepting of homosexuality in Athens. Aeschylus wrote of the warrior Achilles that he honored ''the holy converse with your thighs'' of his companion in arms, Patroclos. If people think gays cannot fight, they should remember Marathon (and be happy there are no surviving Spartan soldiers to disabuse them of their views).

There are effeminate gays, just as there are effeminate straight people; effeminacy and homosexuality are not coterminous. There have been famous gay football players. Few Marines can equal the battle medals won by some gay combatants.

At one time, gays were excluded from government service because they were considered blackmailable by anyone who would reveal their terrible secret. Now, when openly gay people are accepted in politics -- or even voted into office, or appointed to high positions by the president -- this is no longer a viable excuse. People are scrambling around for new ''arguments.''

(Ironically, the only blackmail possibility left is created by the ban on gays in the military -- they can be expelled if someone reveals their secret.)

Some religious people believe that to protect gay rights is to approve gay morals. This misreads the whole logic of civil-rights legislation. Adulterers have civil rights, which does not mean that the society protecting those rights approves of adultery. We protect the rights of many people we may disagree with -- atheists, polytheists, religious zealots on the right. Why exclude gays?

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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