Senate Democrats’ failure to procure the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — the military’s unpopular, self-limiting, discriminatory ban on honest service — is truly heartbreaking. Although we may yet see the policy fall in this legislative session, this serious setback should put the lie rather firmly to the idea that the Republican Party represents the average American, on all or even many issues. It should also raise questions — chief among them:
Why did this simple measure fail — again?
Partially because, for repeal proponents, the issue may be, but often is not, a legislative priority. We’ve won adherents to the cause of equality, but this is still a case of a smaller minority with powerful friends. Repeal directly affects, and is thus direly urgent for, a very small portion of society: gay servicemembers. Straight allies and activists (like yours truly) may care deeply about the issue, but we, too, are a smaller lobby.
On the other hand, for the majority of repeal opponents (especially now that the Pentagon study has quashed any objective reason to oppose integration), gay segregation is an issue of millennial proportions. For most opponents, permitting gays to serve honorably would offend God, and placating deities has a way of jumping to the head of anyone’s priority list. If you believe in God, and his hatred of nontraditional lifestyles, there’s really little room for compromise. Especially if, like leading Republicans, you’ve also tricked yourself into thinking societal repression will somehow magically heal the economy.
Equality should always be a priority in America. But, “what can Men do, against such reckless hate?” Witness, once more, the democratically corrosive effects of the culture wars.