Unlikely Allies Promote Policy Change
Published: February 19th, 2010
By: Steven and Cokie Roberts

Unlikely allies promote policy change

“Twenty years ago, the military were strong advocates of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ when I was secretary of defense,” Dick Cheney said last Sunday on ABC News, “I think things have changed significantly since then. I think the society has moved on. I think it’s partly a generational question.”

It’s time, he concluded, to reconsider the policy of firing gay men and women from the military if their sexual orientation becomes known. What? An issue Dick Cheney and Barack Obama agree on? And it’s gays in the military? When he presided over the Pentagon, Cheney kept in place an outright ban on homosexuals serving in America’s armed forces. The don’t-ask, don’t-tell rule came later, as a compromise between banning gays and permitting them to serve openly.

But Cheney is thankfully right that attitudes have changed since then. In a recent ABC News poll, 75 percent said they favored allowing homosexuals who “publicly disclose their sexual orientation” to serve, up from only 44 percent at the beginning of the Clinton administration. And Cheney is also right that young people are much more open to gay rights – especially gay marriage – than their elders. In the poll, two-thirds of those under 30 gave legalized marriage a thumbs up, compared with only 30 percent of seniors.

In criticizing Republicans who demonize homosexuals, our friend George Will recently joked that, to young people, being gay is “about as interesting as being left-handed.” That’s a little too glib. But even macho college fraternities are now taking in openly gay students. To many kids, it’s just not a big deal. They have grown up knowing gay people who have not tried to hide who they are.

And that makes a huge difference. In the ABC poll, 63 percent said they had a friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, and they’re much more likely to support equality than those who don’t. Vice President Cheney, for instance, caused an uproar in his party when he said states should decide whether to legalize gay marriage. Cheney’s view, he readily admitted, is shaped by the fact that he has a lesbian daughter. Of course it is. How could he look at her and her longtime partner and their two children and not feel differently from someone who has never known a loving homosexual couple?

What courage it has taken for many gays and lesbians to educate us all! Just by living and loving, not by demonstrating and demanding, they have managed to completely change the attitudes of a nation. Many have taken great risks personally and professionally by “coming out of the closet,” but they have bravely done so, making it possible for young homosexuals coming after them to face a far more tolerant society. Except in the military.

That doesn’t make sense to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who told a Senate Committee: “We have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” Scrapping don’t ask, don’t tell, he insisted, is a matter of integrity, “theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

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