"When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
So reads the epitaph on the tombstone of a Vietnam veteran in Congressional Cemetery. Despite twelve years of honorable service in which he earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Technical Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was discharged by the Air Force simply because he was gay.
The controversial Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy was not in effect in 1975 when Matlovich was discharged; it has only been 17 years since President Clinton signed that policy into law.
But in practice, the policy is no different from the one in place in the 70s. DADT only served to officially state that a gay soldier might serve in the military so long as he keeps his sexuality hidden – as if that had not already been happening – as if gay soldiers had not been going to war alongside straight soldiers since the beginning of time.
Seventeen years later, our nation should be ready to repeal such an archaic law. Even Clinton now admits that signing DADT into law was a mistake. But when a defense bill that would have allowed for its repeal came before the Senate last Tuesday, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Senate Republicans successfully filibustered it before it debate could even commence.
The defeat came on the heels of a victory for those who favor repeal earlier this month when a United States District Court ruled in favor of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay advocacy group, deciding that DADT was unconstitutional.
Not only is DADT an unconstitutional policy, it is an affront to the very ideals our men and women in uniform fight for. For almost a decade now, our soldiers have been fighting on battlefields across the Middle East against enemies whose very motivation for terror is rooted in absolute intolerance for anyone with a differing viewpoint.
Yet our government has the gall to tell the many gay soldiers fighting for the rest of us that they can serve as long as they continue to hide their sexuality. We ask them to do what we would never ask a straight soldier to do – to keep silent and never to speak of the loved ones back home for whom they are risking their lives.
Feigned concern for the safety of gay soldiers in the event that they are allowed to openly serve in the military is no excuse. Those who opposed integration of blacks and whites in the military also expressed concerns that blacks would be mistreated if allowed to serve alongside whites. So far, it appears the experiment of integration turned out quite well.
No one denies that gays in the military will continue to face discrimination after the repeal of DADT; they face it regardless. But breaking down the barracks of legally enforced discrimination is one of the first steps towards breaking down the barriers of social discrimination. Besides, if there be any soldier who is ready to fight enemies abroad, it is one who is strong enough walk tall in the face of discrimination at home.
They face it back home for sure. U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, who represents Mississippi's fourth district, opposes any attempts to repeal the ban on gays in the military. "To introduce openly gay men and women without serious regard for the consequences could severely damage the security and morale of our nation's armed forces," reads the statement on his website.
While Taylor assumes that gays would harm the effectiveness of the military, his statement also seems to betray a low opinion of our servicemen's ability to cope with the presence of gay soldiers. Our soldiers can deal with bombs, bullets, and terrorists – but gays? Taylor, who is up for re-election in November, is not so sure.
"Most Americans should be shocked to know that while the country's economy is going down the tubes, the military has wasted half a billion dollars over the past decade chasing down gays and running them out of the armed services," wrote a certain Republican senator from Arizona in an op-ed once.
No, the writer of that op-ed was not John McCain. Nor was that op-ed written recently, but it could have been. It appeared in the Washington Post around the time of the adoption of DADT, and former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater penned it. Since that time, more than 13,000 soldiers have been discharged from the military because of their sexuality.
If McCain is interested in living up to the ideals America's finest live, fight, and die for, he should consider the words of his predecessor, who in 1993 said, "You don't need to be `straight' to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."