It’s ironic that the demise of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, while a victory for individual rights in America, actually gives the country another black eye.
At least we used to be consistent in the way we officially treated gays. Gay members of our armed forces had to keep their private affairs and proclivities in the shadows while their straight colleagues enjoyed their lives in the open. The official view of them was that they were depraved. It wasn’t just a passive rule; gay service members lived in continual fear of being “outed” by someone else and summarily discharged in disgrace. We don’t even have to go into the tragic loss of talent this represented at a time when our nation needed it the most.
At the same time, we denied those who put their lives on the line the very rights that they were defending for the rest of us. The combination of DADT and the federal Defense of Marriage Act was abhorrent⎯but there was, at least, a certain twisted reasoning to it. If gays weren’t fit to serve, it followed that they shouldn’t be allowed to claim the basic right to marry.
Now we are left pointing only to DOMA⎯the institutional discrimination in our national code against an entire class of people, simply because of whom they are. As of yesterday, there no longer exists even a fig leaf to justify it.
Those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam years might also recall that there was a time when, in many states, twenty-one was the minimum voting age, yet the draft sent many younger people overseas to their deaths. The cry went up, “If we’re old enough to fight, we’re old enough to vote,” and that simple, compelling logic finally won the day.
Thanks to the repeal of DADT, we can now use the same moral argument to assure gays their constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as equal protection under the law. Jefferson’s locution, “unalienable rights,” may sound archaic to the modern ear, but as of yesterday, it is even more charged with meaning.