Despite the remarkable determination and steady success of the gay rights movement, the US military remains a bastion of homophobia and discrimination. As an active duty Army officer, I applaud the courage of General (Ret.) Shalikashvili's recent rejoinder to General (Ret.) Lindsay and company's op-ed piece, which Richard Kim mentions here.
Current law and Army policy remove mere sexual orientation as a litmus test for military service. They instead require some affirmative display of "homosexual conduct" as a basis for discharge. Homosexual conduct consists of homosexual acts (that is, any bodily contact between members of the same sex to satisfy sexual desires), homosexual marriages and statements "that [a soldier] is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect." 10 USC.S. § 654 (b) (1)-(3), (f) (3) (A).
Admittedly, using statements about one's sexual orientation as a basis for discharge may be problematic. When investigating allegations of homosexual conduct, for example, Army commanders may not directly ask a soldier, "Are you gay?" They may, however, ask, "Did you tell your roommate last week that you are gay?" Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy, para. 4-19 (d) (5) (c), (e) (18 March, 2008, & Change 1, 11 Feb., 2009). This aspect of the policy places homosexual soldiers in an untenable position, forbidden to even mention their sexual orientation in the presence of their colleagues. But compared with the option of punishing mere sexual orientation without any concrete manifestation of it, the current policy is more palatable, at least in theory.
Army senior leaders should encourage Congress to amend 10 USC. § 654 and remove homosexual conduct as a basis for discharge from military service. The parade of horrible consequences that supporters of the current law predict in the wake of such an amendment--such as a mass exodus of heterosexual troops or the irreparable damage to unit cohesion that homosexual troops would cause--has never been convincing (James L. Lindsay, Jerome Johnson, E.G. "Buck" Shuler Jr., and Joseph J. Went, "Gays and the Military: A Bad Fit," Washington Post [Apr. 15, 2009]). It shamefully legitimizes similar prejudices used to resist gender and racial integration of the armed forces in previous eras. Supporters of the current law also seem to assume that homosexual men and women will lose all self-control and social decorum in a military setting and force themselves upon unwilling heterosexual partners. Such misconduct is not exclusive to or more prevalent among homosexuals. To suggest otherwise is insulting.
The US Army is a generally fair organization that rewards strong performance regardless of a person's unchangeable traits. Rather than lagging behind society on gay rights, the Army should set the standard by protecting soldiers from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and urging Congress to amend 10 USC. § 654.