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He defends ‘don’t ask’ as court hears veterans’ case against it
Boston--Attorneys for gay and lesbian veterans discharged under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy gave oral arguments on March 7, asking the First Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a decision dismissing their constitutional challenge of the policy.
Five days later, Gen. Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that the policy should be kept in place because homosexuality is “immoral,” and the military should not be seen to condone immorality.
Pace told the newspaper that he supports the current policy, passed by Congress in 1993.
“I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and we should not condone immoral acts,” he said. “I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is okay to be immoral in any way.”
“As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not,” he continued. “We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior.”
An architect of the policy, Northwestern University military sociologist Charles Moskos, refused to comment on Pace’s statements, other than to say that it is highly unusual for a high-ranking officer to defend the regulation on the basis of morality.
Moskos is the principal author of the law and coined the phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In a 2000 interview in Lingua Franca magazine, said the he thought the policy should be removed in five to ten years. He also rejected the popular argument against openly gay and lesbian personnel: unit cohesion.
"I don't care about that,” Moskos said, noting gay men and lesbians should be kept out for reasons of modesty. “I should not be forced to shower with a woman. I should not be forced to shower with a gay [man]."
Pace’s aides told the Associated Press on March 13 that the general was expressing his personal opinion and would not apologize.
With the ongoing military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the possibility of military action against Iran and in other theaters in the “war on terror,” fears have been raised over the United States military being spread too thinly.
The General Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative body, issued a 2005 report showing 10,000 dismissals under the policy, including 322 linguists, 54 of them Arabic specialists.
While Rep. Martin Meehan of Massachusetts introduced legislation in February that would repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” veterans of the “war on terror” who were dismissed because of their sexual orientation are not waiting for the legislative process to run its course.
United States District Judge George A. O’Toole dismissed the lawsuit last April, ruling that Congress’ broad powers in establishing military policy trumped the rights to privacy, free speech and equal protection that the dismissed service members claim were violated.
“Systematically in the military today, gays are being harassed, hounded, harmed,” the Associated Press reported that lawyers for Capt. James Pietrangelo II told the First District judges.
“This is segregation all over again,” he said, comparing the policy to the treatment of African Americans in the military.
Politicians and former military personnel who were ejected because of the rule are not the only ones opposing it.
An increasingly long list of high-ranking former officers have been speaking out against “don’t ask,” including Gen. John Shalikashvili earlier this year. He is the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bill Clinton.
Supporting the veterans in their case, 14 retired military leaders filed an amicus curiae brief with the court, arguing “the experience of numerous foreign militaries culturally similar to the United States uniformly demonstrates that the integration of openly gay service members has no adverse effect on cohesion.”
The policy “undermines the military’s ability to fulfill its primary mission of providing national security by discouraging the enlistment of gay persons qualified to serve their country and by expelling form the military those who have served with honor.”
Among those signing the brief were former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Carolyn Becraft, Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb, Admiral John D. Hutson, the president and dean of Franklin Pierce Law School, and Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer who went public with her own struggles as a closeted lesbian in the military.
While the court did not immediately release a decision, Gen. Pace issued a statement the day after his Chicago Tribune interview hit the stands, that he regretted sharing his personal opinion but makes no apologies for mixing it with his professional duty.
“In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct,” he said. “I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.”