Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2014

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Where I stand:

No more denying gays’ right to serve

Judge’s ruling reflects military’s needs, changing views in U.S.

Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Don’t care. And other earth-moving events to discuss.

For decades, probably forever or as long as people have paid attention to such things, the U.S. military has tried to keep the ranks heterosexually pure. By that I mean no gay people allowed to serve their country.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. In fact, for as long as the United States has been around, homosexual soldiers have served honorably, bravely and with the same devotion to duty and country as have straight soldiers. And they have sacrificed just as greatly.

Realizing the inequities and the absurdity of the argument, President Bill Clinton’s administration tried to come up with a way that gay people could serve their country without “violating” the Uniform Code of Military Justice and any other operative manuals that prohibited such service, including fear mongering from both inside and outside the ranks of the military.

So they came up with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which meant that the Army or any other branch of the service would no longer ask a soldier his or her sexual orientation — as a condition of honorable service — nor would the individual “tell” his secret. In other words, we will keep this out of sight, out of mind, and out of the political process for as long as we can.

Eighteen years later, life has changed. The military necessities of war have required multiple tours of duty because we just don’t have the manpower we need in our all-volunteer-service world. As difficult as this is on our military men and women, we continue to discharge soldiers who are perfectly capable of carrying a weapon, interpreting a foreign language, flying an airplane and jumping off a cliff on a rope to save lives.

Amid this environment of necessity, attitudes about gay people have changed dramatically, certainly among younger generations of Americans who just don’t understand why the discrimination still occurs. So, to them, the push to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” appears to be an idea whose time has finally come or is long overdue.

You would think that necessity and attitudinal change should be sufficient to effect change in the law and the rules. In politics, though, bad ideas die hard, especially when votes are attached to maintaining the status quo. Simply put, Congress has been unable to get it done.

Enter a federal judge in Riverside, Calif., named Virginia Phillips. Judge Phillips ruled in favor of the Log Cabin Republicans and ordered that “don’t ask, don’t tell” be suspended. She refused to grant a stay order pending appeal because she was so adamant regarding the unconstitutionality of the policy. An appeals court has temporarily stayed that ruling pending a hearing shortly.

In her ruling, Phillips found exactly the opposite that those who worry about gay people in uniform would have us believe. Continuing the policy, she wrote, would have a “direct and deleterious effect” on the military. That’s what the facts proved. She also found the policy to be unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.

There goes that pesky Constitution getting in the way of a good, political wedge issue. Oh well, perhaps we can have everyone over for a tea party to discuss it.

The point is not to discuss the judge’s ruling but the manner in which the military forces of the United States reacted. They did what good soldiers must always do. They followed the court’s ruling and have ordered all recruiters to stop asking questions regarding sexual orientation. They have also stopped all separation proceedings against those who have been de-closeted, so to speak.

In a matter of just a few days, decades and decades of political wrangling have been muted and the folks who seemingly had the most to lose — the armed services of this country — are complying with the new rules.

So, one might ask, what was all the fuss about? And why did we have to argue so much for so long about so little? Regardless of what the appeals court does with this case, it is clear to me that “don’t ask, don’t tell” will fall of its own weight because soon people just won’t care. Just as important, the great fear that our generals proclaimed all these years will not come to pass.

All because of the courage of one federal judge.

•••

I said there was something else of an earth-moving nature that happened here at home. Three well-respected and thoughtful leaders in Southern Nevada who are generally not thought of as typical Harry Reid supporters, well, are.

There are some immutable facts that people count on in their lives. One of those facts is the disparity in political thought between Harry Reid, on the one hand, and three well-respected Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leaders on the other.

And, yet, those three leaders came out strongly last week for Sen. Reid.

Why? Because, to a man, they each agree that Harry Reid, above all else, is a man of integrity and sincerity. Two essential qualities in a leader that must never be overlooked.

Marlan Walker, former Clark County Commissioner Jay Bingham and Ace Robison have known Reid for years, one practically for a lifetime, and each publicly supports Reid’s re-election. They understand, far more than any political disagreements they may have, that Harry’s dedication to the people of Nevada is unwavering. And they understand that now, more than ever, we need his talent and ability in Washington.

For those who don’t know these three gentlemen and their strongly conservative political beliefs, there is an expression about someplace freezing over that comes to mind when I think about what they have just done.

They are adamant in encouraging their friends to support Harry Reid because all four men have in common a deep-felt belief in this state and doing what is best for the people who live and work here.

We all know elections are about choices, and what these men are saying to Nevada is simple: There is no other choice.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.