Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Closets, Gays and Suicides
Perhaps you've heard about the lawsuit filed in Virginia against the Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. A judge in Virginia, taking up a suit filed by two groups -- the Service Members United and the Log Cabin Democrats -- has ruled it unconstitutional because it infringes on fundamental human rights. Now, the Obama Administration has decided to appeal it, which might seem like a bad thing for opponents of the law, but I'm not so sure. I believe that this ruling, like the one striking down Prop 8 in California, need to be heard by the Supreme Court so that there can be no doubt left in the minds of Americans that discrimination against gays by government agencies is contrary to the Constitution.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a policy of the closet. It is a policy that forces men and women to keep silent about their sexual orientation in order to keep their jobs. That is a policy encouraging dishonesty, and leaves people open to being exploited. Ending once and for all discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military is an issue whose time has come. Americans seem to be more and more accepting of this idea, and besides Americans when they sit down and think things through believe in fairness and equality, even if they might be uncomfortable with homosexuality.
Closets, which is where we have forced gays and lesbians to live, are dangerous places. Suicide is the biggest killer of gay teens, in large part because they are forced to live secretive lives, and when they emerge from the closet face tremendous pressure, discrimination, and abuse. To be discovered -- to be outed -- by others can lead to great fear and humiliation, and as a result the decision to end their lives. Religious folks, unfortunately, contribute to this climate of fear. Homosexuals are denounced as sinners and deviants. Although God many love gays, God hates their sin, and so if they don't repent they'll end up in hell. It's not a pretty picture. In mainline Protestant churches, where hell isn't necessarily a topic of conversation, but discomfort with the idea of homosexuality remains ever present, we have adopted the "don't ask, don't tell" principle, and so we force people into the closet. That closet maybe a good place to pray (for a time), but it is not a good place to live, and so the spiritual lives and callings of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is undermined. Indeed, many decide to leave rather than experience the humiliation and the sense of loneliness of the closet.
We stand at a pivot point in history. The discussions of "don't ask, don't tell," "gay marriage," and the recent string of suicides, is bringing to our awareness a critical issue. Polls suggest that people are more and more comfortable with homosexuality -- in part because they're discovering that their neighbors, their relatives, and people in the pew are gay and lesbian. So, the time is ripe for an open discussion of these issues -- so that the closets can be emptied, people can live without fear of discrimination and humiliation, and people can enjoy the full blessings of life in civil society and in the community of God's people.