Necessity Is the Mother of Strange Bedfellows

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Necessity Is the Mother of Strange Bedfellows

When people do the right thing, it's not always because it's the right thing. Sometimes, they don't think they have a choice but to hold their noses and join forces with their erstwhile enemies.

Critics of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy are gaining new allies, including a few conservative congressmen and a West Point professor, as they press on multiple fronts to overturn the ban on out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians in the armed forces.

As part of their strategy, opponents of the policy are now highlighting the ongoing struggles of Army and Marine recruiters....

In Congress, four Republicans - including stalwart conservatives Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida - have joined 81 Democrats co-sponsoring a bill to repeal the policy....

Discharges peaked at 1,227 in 2001, and declined to 653 last year, a drop which critics attribute to reluctance by war-zone commanders to deprive their units of experienced gay and lesbian personnel during difficult missions....

Gilchrest, the Maryland congressman, said he was unsure how many of his fellow majority Republicans were ready to join in seeking repeal, but suggested the momentum was shifting in that direction.

"When this issue comes up, members who believe that gays shouldn't be in the military are now more hesitant to voice their opinion," Gilchrest said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Many of us who feel the other way have come out of the closet, so to speak. A year ago, I would have been uncomfortable expressing my feelings."

Besides the problem of low recruitment and a shortage of manpower, Gilchrest has another reason for opposing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Gilchrest, a former supporter of the ban, said he changed his view partly out of respect for gay Marines he served with in Vietnam and for his brother, who is gay.
I suspect that if polls excluded respondents who think they don't know any gay people (and certainly aren't related to any, perish the thought), there would be overwhelming support for gay rights on a wide range of issues, and particularly anti-discrimination issues like Don't Ask Don't Tell. Sure, there are conservatives like Alan Keyes who basically disown their gay children, but there also seem to be a lot of others who change their minds when they see someone they know and maybe even love suffering the consequences of homophobia. Which might be a side effect of outing closeted conservatives whom other conservatives already respect.

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