On ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Let me be perfectly clear: governments, in general, have no right to police private morality. There are certain exceptions—most notably that governments have a clear and valid responsibility to protect the lives and liberty of all human beings, including the unborn (who have unique human DNA just like you and me). But outside of protecting the basic rights of others, government must stay out of people’s private moral decisions.

I am a conservative Christian (Catholic, specifically). There are things I consider morally reprehensible, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily any business of the government. I believe that extra-marital sexual relations are immoral, and people who engage in such acts should repent and get right with God, but consensual sex between adults should never be treated as a criminal act in a free society. Morally wrong? Yes. Criminal? No.

Many of my fellow conservatives have problems with this because they lack important perspective. In a ‘majority rules’ democratic republic where the government is granted authority over private moral decisions, it’s not hard to imagine a world where our conservative Christian morality is the outlawed minority opinion. Those of us on the ‘right’ who would have the government outlaw extra-marital sex, or homosexual sex, would be inviting a government that would soon feel it had the moral authority to outlaw churches that won’t marry homosexual couples or won’t endorse extra-marital sex or cohabitation. I’m not wishing for a government that enforces morality; I’m deathly afraid of one.

While I would characterize my personal moral beliefs as ‘conservative,’ my political views are generally more ‘libertarian.’ I think, more often than not, government should keep it’s grubby paws off everything. The libertarian mindset is one that eschews government interference in the economy, and also eschews government interference in people’s private lives. I think homosexual activity (like other extra-marital sexual activity) is a mortal sin, which requires repentance and penance (that’s all a discussion for another day), but I would reject any government effort to outlaw it. Government does not belong in people’s bedrooms legislating the relations between consenting adults. Period. If government has the authority to legislate this kind of private morality, it’s only a matter of time before they’re legislating the wrong morality at our expense.

It is in this context that I have opposed the U.S. military’s longstanding ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy toward homosexual service members. It’s not because I think homosexuality is morally acceptable—that’s not the issue here—it’s just that I don’t see how people’s sexual preferences are germane in any way whatsoever to their military service. A poignant political cartoon by Chan Lowe showed three flag-draped military caskets and asked, “Which is the gay one?” Good question. Does it matter? Should it matter? What relevance has a man’s sexual preference to his willingness to sacrifice his life for his countrymen?

Should we exclude people who have extra-marital sex from military service? What about people who occasionally drink too much? What about atheists? What about people who are divorced? Where do we draw the line about what personal moral transgressions disqualify one from sacrificing himself for his country? I can tell you where I draw the line. I draw it at ‘other.’ Public morality (e.g., marriage), or moral decisions that directly effect others (e.g., abortion), are public issues and thus open to public debate and restriction. Private morality (e.g., sexual activity between consenting adults) is none of the government’s business.

In other words, it’s time to retire ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Engaging in homosexual activity is a serious moral issue—a mortal sin. It is not, however, a reasonable or acceptable disqualifier for military service in a free democratic republic.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.