During his farewell tour of Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was queried by a Marine sergeant who wanted to know whether soldiers who had enlisted in the military before the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy was repealed would be able to opt out of their enlistment. Gates’ answer was a blunt “no.”
“You’ll have to complete your … enlistment just like everybody else,” he said.
The repeal of DADT has been forcefully opposed by the Marines, more so than other branches of the military, especially by a leader who said that the policy should not be repealed during wartime. In a survey conducted last fall, misconceptions and hostility toward gay servicemen and women were strongest among the Marines. This was clear in the Marine sergeant’s question. He asked Gates:
“Sir, we joined the Marine Corps because the Marine Corps has a set of standards and values that is better than that of the civilian sector. And we have gone and changed those values and repealed the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. We have not given the Marines a chance to decide whether they wish to continue serving under that. Is there going to be an option for those Marines that no longer wish to serve due to the fact their moral values have not changed?”
Gates, quite reasonably, pointed out that Marines found it possible to work together, despite differences in religious and political backgrounds and beliefs. “You still serve together,” he said. “And you work together. And you look out for each other. And that’s all that matters.”
The repeal of DADT will go into effect 60 days after servicemembers have been trained about the policy, so that the change will not affect the military’s readiness. This will hopefully be relatively soon. And while Gates’ response is encouraging, in that he categorically refused to take this objection into account, the question itself is troubling, because it signals potential difficulties in integrating openly gay soldiers into the military, particularly more conservative and change-averse branches like the Marines.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.