Last week at the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, several of the candidates (including Dr. Ron Paul) were asked their opinions on the military's policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which effectively prohibits openly gay or lesbian Americans from serving their country in uniform.
All ten of the candidates indicated their general support for the policy, though some were more vocal than others.
Now former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, a Republican best known for his authorship of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex relationships (even legal marriages in states like Massachusetts or civil unions in states like Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont), has come out swinging against DADT.
In an article titled "Don't Ask, Who Cares" in today's Wall Street Journal (available on line -- unfortunately, only to subscribers), Barr says:
As a conservative Republican member of Congress from 1995 to 2003, I was hardly a card-carrying member of the gay-rights lobby. I opposed then, and continue to oppose, same-sex marriage, or the designation of gays as a constitutionally protected minority class. Service in the armed forces is another matter. The bottom line here is that, with nearly a decade and a half of the hybrid "don't ask, don't tell" policy to guide us, I have become deeply impressed with the growing weight of credible military opinion which concludes that allowing gays to serve openly in the military does not pose insurmountable problems for the good order and discipline of the services.Congressman Barr emphasizes the conservative nature of his opinion:
The fact is, equal treatment of gay and lesbian service members is about as conservative a position as one cares to articulate.Later in the article, Barr points to a study led by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen (also a former Republican Senator) that concluded that DADT has cost American taxpayers upwards of $360 million.
Why? First, true conservative political philosophy respects the principles of individual freedom and personal privacy, particularly when it comes to what people do in private. The invasive investigations required to discharge a service member are an unconscionable intrusion into the private lives of American citizens. Worse, while supporters of don't ask, don't tell claim the policy only regulates behavior and not identity, the distinction is disingenuous. A service member could be discharged for being overheard remarking that, "I can stay later today since my partner will be taking the dog for a walk."
Second, and on a more practical level, the ban on gays openly serving in our armed forces is hurting a military that is stretched thin, putting further strain on an institution conservatives claim to love. The U.S. has fired over 11,000 people under the current policy, and in the process has lost over 1,000 service members with "mission-critical skills," including 58 Arabic linguists.
Bob Barr's piece is quite persuasive, yet it fails to mention that the armed forces of America's allies -- including Israel and Great Britain -- have integrated their ranks with openly gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors without an adverse effect on performance or morale. He does note that the majority of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan say they would be comfortable serving with openly gay comrades -- no doubt because most of them have already done so, despite the failed Clinton-era policy.
One has to wonder why Bob Barr is not among the field of hopefuls seeking the GOP presidential nomination. A man of his intellect and perspicacity deserves a chance at higher office.