After months of waiting for the Pentagon to release its official study of the effects of overturning "don't ask, don't tell," the report is finally out. To no one's surprise -- especially given that the results were leaked earlier this month -- it found that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military would not harm military readiness or unit cohesion, though it may cause initial disruptions as DADT is phased out. A similar, $1.3 million study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 1993 found the same thing. More noteworthy, however, are the results of the troop survey, which show that more than 70 percent of military members said overturning the ban would have "mixed, positive or no effect."
The results of the troop survey are important because representatives like Sen. John McCain have opposed overturning the ban in deference to the opinions of military members. So what do you do once you find out they don't think allowing gay people to serve openly will have the catastrophic consequences you've been warning about? Deny the evidence. McCain has done everything possible to dismiss the study's findings, taking issue with the fact that it was leaked early and that service members were not directly asked whether they would like DADT to be repealed; Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said this was not part of the mandate from the charter that commissioned the study, and in any event, he said he doesn't think "that military policy decisions should -- on this or any other subject -- be subject to referendum of servicemembers."
Two points. Part of the argument for keeping DADT -- and the criticism that's been directed at its opponents -- has been that the military is special, that the rules for civil society are not the same as those necessary for a well-disciplined and effective military force. There's some sense in this; it's probably why, for instance, we don't ask military members to vote on each tactical move they have to carry out, or leave the decision of whether the country goes to war to them. If the rights and responsibilities of military members need be different from those of civil society in any way, following decisions made along the chain of command seems to be the most important for maintaining cohesion. Surveying the troops about a policy matter is, in that light, a departure from the military M.O.
But the larger question is whether the rights of any minority group should be put up to a vote. In this case, the results of the study tip the scales in favor of repeal, but that needn't have been the case -- and it shouldn't matter anyway. Anti-gay activists rely on the prejudice of voters to suppress minority rights -- and call it undemocratic when a court rules that the electorate does not have a right to vote on issues like gay marriage or in this case the DADT repeal. But a fundamental feature of our democracy is that the system is reined in from pure mob rule by the (at least in theory) inalienable guarantees of the Constitution. You don't want the Bill of Rights put up to a vote every time the courts want to extend its protections to a marginalized group, whether public opinion is on your side or not.
-- Gabriel Arana
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