The purpose in writing this paper is to help focus the current discussion on the issue of homosexuality and military service. It is not to be misconstrued as criticism or an attack on homosexual persons as individuals or a group. Personally, I know and care very much for individuals who have confided to me that they are homosexuals. I am pastorally aware of problems and challenges that they experience, and I pray that God may help them to experience a happy, healthy, and full life.
Definition of Terms
Homosexuality is generally defined in two ways: (1) the manifestation of sexual desire toward a member of one's own sex, and (2) erotic activity with a member of one's own sex.
In the definition of a homosexual, the distinction between the inclination toward (orientation) and the practice of (behavior) homosexuality is essential to keep in mind throughout this paper.
Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney and other governmental and military leaders have been under pressure to change the current policy which excludes homosexuals from military service. For example, the News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington published a story on June 5, 1992 concerning Seattle Mayor Norm Rice's criticism “equating the military's ban on homosexuals with racial segregation.” In a written response to Mayor Rice, General Colin Powell pointed out: “Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. . . . Comparison of the two is a convenient but invalid statement.”
The fundamental flaw found in the argumentation allowing homosexuals to serve in the military is the failure to distinguish correctly and to recognize the relationship between “sexual orientation“ and “sexual behavior.” Supporters of a change in the current DOD policy argue that just as blacks and women experienced discrimination in the past, so too are homosexuals discriminated against today by being excluded from military service. In advancing this argument, however, they fail to acknowledge that being black or a woman relates to personhood, which is a nonbehavioral trait quite distinct from homosexual behavior. Even if it may be shown that some homosexuals have an orientation that they have not chosen, it is fair to state that homosexual behavior is in fact “a choice,” and one that most people do not view as normal conduct either for themselves or their sons and daughters in or out of the military.
In any case, practicing homosexuals today more frequently do not consider their orientation a private matter, but are inclined to seek public affirmation for their lifestyle. It can be argued that the deliberate manifestation by word or deed of one's homosexual orientation marks the beginning of behavioral change because the announcement itself is the demand for a social infrastructure to support the behavior.
While the military does not seek to discriminate unjustly, it believes for a number of sound reasons that persons with a homosexual orientation could experience difficulty in controlling their behavior in light of the unique circumstances of military life. Unlike living conditions in most civilian circumstances, private moments are few or nonexistent on a ship or in a deployed status. As Secretary Cheney has noted on previous occasions, the line between public and private for those who wear the uniform is very thin indeed.
In Steffan v. Cheney, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on December 19, 1991 in favor of the Secretary of Defense. The judge noted that “In the Military Establishment . . . the policy of separating men and women when sleeping, bathing, and ‘using the bathroom' seeks to maintain the privacy of officers and the enlisted while in certain cases of undress. The embarrassment of being naked as between the sexes is prevalent because sometimes the other is considered to be a sexual object. The quite rational assumption in the Navy is that with no one present who has a homosexual orientation, men and women alike can undress, sleep, bathe, and use the bathroom without fear or embarrassment that they are being viewed as sexual objects.”
Serious Questions to Consider
Critics of the current DOD policy question the validity of the arguments used by the military to justify the exclusion of homosexuals from its ranks. These critics should be prepared to answer some questions that might be raised by military personnel whose lives would be affected by a policy change.
1. It appears ironic to military personnel that some lawmakers who have been outspoken in regard to problems of sexual harassment in the military are in some cases the same lawmakers who endorse homosexuals serving in those same armed forces. Would these lawmakers be comfortable with having a seventeen-year-old son billeted in a three-man barracks room with two homosexuals for a four-year tour of duty? How might the son himself feel about this arrangement?
2. Given the uniquely close living and working conditions of military life (e.g., on ship or in the barracks), how would the admission of acknowledged homosexuals into the military affect recruitment and retention?
3. The military services, with their predominantly young male population, would pose a major challenge to gay men who might wish to arrest their behavior. On the other hand, would the military not be an attractive occupation for homosexuals who see no reason to restrict that same behavior?
4. In light of what some would argue is an “innate orientation,” would it be wise for a liquor store manager to hire an alcoholic who does not see that condition as a problem and is not, therefore, working toward recovery?
5. How might we expect a heterosexual to behave if he/she occupied a small room with an attractive person of the opposite sex on a ship deployed at sea for six months?
6. If homosexuals were allowed to serve in the military and occupy the same quarters, how does a commanding officer respond to the charge that, by allowing homosexuals to room together, he is discriminating against heterosexuals if he denies them as unmarried men and women the similar right of sharing the same quarters?
Unfortunately, these are but a few questions which opponents of the current DOD policy do not wish to consider.
The number of homosexuals in society is uncertain. Popular estimates vary between 5 percent and 10 percent. The 10 percent claim goes back to Alfred Kinsey's 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, in which it is stated that “10 percent of the males are more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.” On the same page, however, Kinsey states that “4 percent of the white males are exclusively homosexual throughout their lives after adolescence.” For political reasons, gay rights activists prefer to quote the 10 percent over the 4 percent statistic. Since the publication of Kinsey's work, the accuracy of his survey has been questioned by many researchers. A more recent 1990 survey of more than 10,000 persons by the National Center for Health Statistics indicates that homosexuals and bisexuals combined amount to approximately 1.5 percent of the population.1
A recent Government Accounting Office (GAO) report, Defense Force Management: DOD's Policy on Homosexuality, noted statistics regarding the number of homosexuals that have been discharged from the military. Opponents of the current DOD policy like to quote this report in regard to the amount of money reported to have been expended in discharging homosexuals. DOD critics give the impression that homosexuals are separated simply because of a discovered nonthreatening orientation. Having counseled personnel accused of homosexual behavior and having reviewed cases involving charges of homosexuality, I have yet to come across a case where a person was discharged who denied having engaged in homosexual conduct. Consequently, the amount of money expended on separating people because of homosexual behavior would not decrease, but would increase if homosexuals were admitted.
There are a number of other statistics that the GAO report did not include. The following are but a few that should be considered in the current discussion:
1. Statistics give evidence of widespread sexual compulsiveness among homosexual men. A recent University of Chicago survey revealed that for the U.S. population as a whole, the estimated number of sex partners beyond age 18 is 7.15 (8.67 for those never married). These numbers stand in striking contrast to the results of a major study by the Kinsey Institute which revealed that 43 percent of the homosexual men surveyed estimated that they had sex with 500 or more partners; 28 percent with 1,000 or more partners. In the same study, 79 percent of white male homosexuals surveyed said that more than half of their partners were strangers. Seventy percent said more than half of their sexual partners were men with whom they had sex only once.2
2. Since the onset of AIDS, there does not appear to be a significant decrease in homosexual partnering behavior. In one study in the mid-1980s, the average number of different partners allegedly fell from 70 to 50 per year; in another study, the number was allegedly reduced from 76 to 47 per year.3
3. Homosexual men are six times more likely to have attempted suicide than are heterosexual men.
4. Studies indicate that between 25 and 35 percent of homosexual men and women are alcoholics.4
5. In a survey reported by the American Public Health Association, 78 percent of the gay respondents reported that they have been affected by a sexually transmitted disease at least one time.5
6. According to a San Francisco survey reported in Time magazine, 46 percent of the homosexuals interviewed who were between ages eighteen and twenty-five had engaged in anal intercourse without a condom within the previous month—despite the threat of AIDS.6
7. The latest figures available from the Centers for Disease Control show that two-thirds of all AIDS cases are directly attributable to homosexual conduct.7 The percentage of homosexuals infected with the HIV virus continues to rise. According to Dr. Robert Redfield, chief of the Retrovirology Laboratory at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, 50 percent of male homosexuals in San Francisco are now infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS, up from 7 percent in the early 1980s.8 One does not need a medical degree to recognize that admitting homosexuals into the military would bring about an increase in the number of AIDS cases and would put additional financial and personnel strains on military medicine, which must contend with a declining military budget and the challenge of recruiting and retaining sufficient medical personnel.
American society is experiencing the concurrent phenomena of increasing sensitivity regarding human rights accompanied by growing rejection of sexual morality. The movement to approve homosexual conduct as an acceptable lifestyle is not surprising in today's permissive society.
Military leaders influence the formation of attitudes in their subordinates, and not only their words but their example can profoundly affect the direction and lives of those whom they lead. This fact was articulated by General John Lejeune, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, who noted that “a large portion of those enlisting are under twenty-one years of age” and “are in a very formative period of their lives.” “We owe it to them, to their parents, and to the nation that when discharged from the service they should be far better physically, mentally, and morally than when they enlisted.” Today when more militant and vocal homosexuals are advocating that homosexuality should be included in sex education courses as an acceptable alternative to marriage, military personnel themselves and parents of young service men and women cannot help but be concerned about this matter. Legislators and military leaders have a legitimate role to play in checking the spread of homosexual behavior, especially among young people whose minds and characters are in formative stages.
In summary, the DOD homosexual exclusion policy is designed to preserve, promote, and protect legitimate military interests, which include the personal privacy rights of service members. Discussions with active-duty personnel whose lives would be affected by a policy change give evidence that recruitment of avowed homosexuals could erode morale and have a negative impact on recruitment and retention. Just as universities do not require women to share rooms and showers with men in college dormitories, heterosexual personnel should not be forced to interact with homosexuals without recourse to other living arrangements available to most civilians. Just as the military excludes persons because of physical handicap or age for the good of the individuals themselves and those with whom they would serve, so too is the military justified in excluding homosexuals from its ranks. While opponents of the current DOD policy prefer to avoid the issue of behavior and instead to present homosexuality as a nonthreatening orientation, the fact is that lifelong, or even career-long, celibacy among those with homosexual orientation is a rare exception rather than the rule. In this period of history, when militant homosexuals not only reveal their liaisons and lifestyles but actively and articulately promote the homosexual relationship as a morally acceptable alternative to marriage, legislation that would require the military to accept homosexuals would do much more to violate the rights of heterosexual military personnel than it would to promote the rights of homosexuals. Consequently, in light of the multiple reasons noted above, legislation that would reverse the current DOD homosexual exclusion policy should not be enacted.
1 Deborah Dawson, “AIDS Knowledge and Attitudes for January-March 1990: Provisional Data from the National Health Interview Survey”; Joseph F. Fittle and Marcie Cynamon, ibid. for April-June 1990; Pamela F. Adams and Ann M. Hardy, ibid. for July-September 1990, in Advance Data, nos. 193, 195, and 198, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, p. 11 in all three documents.
2 Alan P. Bell and Martin S. Weinberg, Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), p. 308.
3 S. A. Stewart, USA Today, November 21, 1984; L. McKusick et al., “AIDS and Sexual Behavior Reported by Gay Men in San Francisco,” American Journal of Public Health, 1985, pages, 193-96.
4 Robert J. Kus, “Alcoholics Anonymous and Gay American Men,” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 14, No. 2 (1987), p. 254.
5 Enrique T. Rueda, The Homosexual Network (Old Greenwich, Conn.: Devin Adair, 1982), p. 53.
6 Dick Thompson, “A Losing Battle with AIDS,” Time, July 2, 1990, p. 43.
7 “HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report,” Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Infectious Disease, Division of HIV/AIDS, January 1992, p. 9. The health and welfare threat of AIDS was a factor in the Steffan v. Cheney ruling in favor of the current DOD policy. The judge wrote: “There is another justification for the policy of excluding homosexuals from service in the United States Armed Forces. . . . [F]ar and away the highest risk category for those who are HIV-positive, a population who will with a high degree of medical certainty one day contract AIDS, is homosexual men.”
8 Family Research Council (Robert G. Morrison, editor), “The Last Bastion,” Washington Watch, June 1992, p. 1.
Commander Eugene T. Gomulka is Deputy Chaplain of the U.S. Marine Corps based in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.