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OPINION

Gay Rights: Don't Ask, Don't Think

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

The central argument in favor of same-sex marriage or overturning “Don’t ask don’t tell” contains a fatal flaw. In fact, this is the flaw at the heart of the entire gay rights movement.

Joint Chief Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen dutifully proclaimed the flaw as truth the other day when speaking in favor of ending the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. He said, "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

Lie about who they are?

Sorry Admiral, but as a former ROTC instructor and legal officer in the United States Navy, I helped deny entrance to potential recruits and prosecuted existing service people for all sorts of behaviors that were incompatible with unit cohesion and military readiness. As you know, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice prohibits numerous behaviors that are not criminal offenses in civilian life (including adultery, fraternization and gambling with a subordinate), yet I never once saw anyone excused for their behavior by claiming that’s who they are.

The military is essential to our survival as a nation. It’s not a social experiment and serving in it is not a right. People have to qualify and then make sacrifices. Military people must subordinate many of their individual rights to advance the national interest. Recruits must agree to give up some of the freedoms that civilians enjoy, including certain sexual freedoms and even the freedom of speech! So even if homosexual behavior is permitted in society, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be permitted in the military.

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Having served, I believe that the military needs as few sexual distractions as possible, be they from men and women serving together in combat or open homosexuality. The job is too difficult and critical to be complicating matters sexually.

More could be said, but I want to zero in on the fatal flaw in most gay-rights causes, and the one the Admiral repeated. It is the failure to distinguish between desires and behavior. Having certain sexual desires—whether you were “born” with them or acquired them sometime in life—does not mean that you are being discriminated against if the law doesn’t allow the behavior you desire.

Take marriage as an example. Despite complaints by homosexual activists, every person in America already has equal marriage rights. We’re all playing by the same rules—we all have the same right to marry any non-related adult of the opposite sex. Those rules do not deny anyone “equal protection of the laws” because the qualifications to enter a marriage apply equally to everyone—every adult person has the same right to marry.

“But what about homosexuals?” you ask. The question would better be stated “what about people with homosexual desires?” Put that way, you can see the flaw. If sexual desires alone are the criteria by which we change our marriage (or military) laws to give people “equal rights,” then why not change them to include polygamy? After all, most men seem born with a desire for many women. How about those who desire their relatives? By the gay rights logic, such people don’t have “equal rights” because our marriage laws have no provision for incest. And bisexuals don’t have “equal rights” because existing marriage laws don’t allow them to marry a man and a woman.

If desires alone guarantee someone special rights, why are there no special rights for pedophiles and gay bashers? The answer is obvious—because desires, even if you were “born” with them, do not justify behavior, do not make anyone a special class, and should have no impact on our laws. (See Born Gay or a Gay Basher: No Excuse.)

Laws encourage good behavior or prevent bad behavior. Desires are irrelevant. We enact all kinds of laws in the country and military that conflict with people’s desires. In fact, that’s why we need them! We wouldn’t need any laws if people always desired to do good, which is why James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

In other words, there should be no legal class of “gay” or “straight,” just a legal class called “person.” And it doesn’t matter whether persons desire sex with the same or opposite sex, or whether they desire sex with children, parents, or farm animals. What matters is whether the behavior desired is something the country or military should prohibit, permit or promote. Those are the only three choices we have when it comes to making law.

The standard comparisons to race and interracial marriage don’t work either. Sexual behavior is always a choice, race never is. You’ll find many former homosexuals, but you’ll never find a former African American. And your race has no effect on your military readiness, but your sexual behavior often can. Likewise, race is irrelevant to marriage while gender is essential to it. Interracial couples can procreate and nurture the next generation (the overriding societal purpose of marriage), but homosexual couples cannot.

The truth is that our marriage and military laws do not discriminate against persons for “who they are”—they discriminate against the behaviors in which they engage. But so what? That’s what most laws do. For example, the Thirteenth Amendment discriminates against the behavior of some businessmen who might like to improve their profits through slavery, but it does not discriminate against those businessmen as persons. And the First Amendment’s freedom-of-religion protections discriminate against the behavior of some Muslims who want to impose Islamic law on the entire nation, but it does not discriminate against those Muslims as persons. Likewise, our marriage and military laws discriminate against the desired behaviors of homosexuals, polygamists, bigamists, and the incestuous, but they do not discriminate against them as persons.

Now some may object to my comparison of homosexuality to polygamy, incest or pedophilia. I agree that the behaviors are not the same, but the point here is that the logic used to justify homosexuality is the same. “I was born with these desires” could also be used to justify polygamy, incest, pedophilia, and even gay bashing—“Don’t blame me. I just have the anti-gay gene!”

That’s the logic reduced to the absurd. And that’s why people who want to make a case for same-sex marriage or homosexual practice in the military should use different arguments. Claiming you “are” your sexual desires, is a case of don’t ask don’t think.

(If you’d like to think more about this admittedly complicated and sensitive issue, get the compact book from which this article is adapted: Correct, Not Politically Correct: How Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone.)

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