As I write this, the Congressional legislation repealing the policy referred to as "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" in the American military only awaits the signature of the President (a mere formality) to become the law of the land. The restrictions are mandated by federal law Pub.L. 103-160 (10 U.S.C. § 654). The policy prohibits people who "demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" from serving in the armed forces of the United States, because their presence "would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability." (10 U.S.C. § 654(b)) The act prohibits any homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. The act specifies that service members who disclose they are homosexual or engage in homosexual conduct shall be separated (discharged) except when a service member's conduct was "for the purpose of avoiding or terminating military service" or when it "would not be in the best interest of the armed forces" (10 U.S.C. § 654(e)).
In my capacity as interviewer with the Federal Government--a position I held for many years--I had the occasion to meet dozens of men who had been discharged from the American military because they had been determined to be homosexual, or because they had been caught engaging in homosexual acts. Discharges for this behavior usually stigmatized the recipient, coloring their later life. The character of one's military discharge was once much more important than I suspect it now is; a man who'd received a dishonorable or "undesirable" (as they were called) discharge, could find it difficult later in life to advance in the business world, or even to get decent work at all. One could be "marked" for life with a discharge like this, and men who'd gotten them were ashamed, and reluctant to talk about them. One knew that there were Gays in the military, just as there were Gays in all walks of life; but the trick was in not giving it away to authorities, not getting caught.
Don't Ask/Don't Tell was intended to permit Gays to feel more secure, in that they couldn't without provocation, be persecuted or pursued by the military for merely "being Gay" without having declared they were, or for engaging in such behaviors. But it kept a principle of secrecy, in that it prevented Gays/Lesbians from revealing their identities. It encouraged secrecy, and secrecy encourages hypocrisy.
The traditional military attitudes regarding homosexual behavior and identity have been loosened in many other countries, with no notable deleterious effects. It is also a commonly accepted opinion, as I'm given to understand, that soldiers who have affectionate feelings for one another, probably fight as well or better than those who don't.
In my view, this new liberalization should be regarded within the context of the larger struggle to legitimate Gay identity and behavior throughout institutions and society generally. If you believe that Gay behavior is unacceptable, you probably disagree about the legalization or increased tolerance of it wherever it occurs, and this would include the military. It's part of a larger effort to make Gay behavior legal throughout the culture. On its face, preventing persecution of different sexual behaviors follows the spirit of our political traditions, which favor freedom and tolerance. But there are wider implications to defining sexual variations as kinds of minority entitlement.
Gay/Lesbian theorization hovers uncertainly between regarding unisexuality as a genetic predisposition, or as a proclivity reinforced with opportunity and training. In other words, there is no generally accepted definition of what it means to have unisexual identity. It may be as likely that one "learns" to be homosexual, as that one "always" knew, from earliest consciousness, that one was different. People will argue both sides with equal tenacity. There are those who will argue that this distinction is irrelevant, since the right to engage in different behaviors needn't be justified by a predisposition, because the principle of freedom of choice and behavior trumps any need for vindication. Then there are those for whom the identity question forms the very basis for their claim, i.e., unisexual identity is by itself a discrete categorical entity, distinct and irrevocable.
It is one thing to legislate fairness and equality by forbidding persecution and discrimination, but quite another to authorize and underwrite a minority "life-style" based on an entitlement which treats a group defined by its "clinically" aberrant sexual proclivities. Given the documented generic promiscuity of unisex behaviors--at least as notorious as straight promiscuity--it seems natural to make a claim of innocent "equality." If unisex activity and persuasion is at least partly a matter of conditioning and opportunity, it is not in the least frivolous or irresponsible to ask whether in a military setting, youths as young as 17 should be required to swear allegiance to an authority that commands them to share the most intimate circumstances of life, with those who may regard them as sexual objects, instead of comrades-in-arms. The potential for "opportunity" and training seem as relevant in this respect, as they would in a fully co-educational dormitory.
Military readiness and fitness for duty, as well as unit solidarity, were almost certainly never at issue, with respect to sexual proclivities. So the real objection to tolerant permission was never the stated pretext of efficiency and cohesiveness, but instead the effect of installing official permission as policy, upon those most vulnerable to its effects. Now that Don't Ask/Don't Tell has been removed, unisexual advocacy can enjoy another victory over official non-acceptance of Gay/Lesbian identity (and "life-style"). The actual consequence of this victory will without a doubt be an increase in opportunistic indoctrination, which was, in my opinion, its real purpose to begin with. As each successive barrier to acceptance of unisexual or bi-sexual behaviors falls, the objective morality upon which that toleration is based, will be significantly augmented. If unisexual identity and behavior is just "a fact of life" or a matter of "individual choice"--protected by individual freedom and "harmless" privacy--then the superstructure of the framework of "normality" is made increasingly meaningless.
The treatment of Gays/Lesbians in the military is just one segment along the spectrum of culture, in which the ethical contest of idealized sexual profiles is tested and determined. Another sphere is the legalization of same-sex marriage, still pending. Still another--down the road--will be the official treatment of unisexual identity in public and private educational institutions. I'm not sure the official "culture at large" has had the opportunity, or the time, to absorb these new waves of permission and honored difference.
There is no such thing as "innocent" behavior among people. Every interaction among thinking individuals carries the potential for adaptive inclination. If we teach our young men and women that sexual variation is morally neutral, more of them will choose to regard it as morally harmless. And more of them will indulge in behaviors which undermine traditional systems of belief. Whether this is a good, or a bad, thing depends upon your ethical attitudes. For some, it clearly is an undesirable outcome. It would be useful if we acknowledged (and addressed) this in discussions, instead of clinging to legalistic definitions of "rights" and constitutional interpretations, which constitute only half of the argument.