Throughout its history, the US Military had an inconsistent policy when it came to homosexuals in the military. Prior to World War II, there was no written policy barring homosexuals from serving, although sodomy was considered a crime by military law ever since Revolutionary War times. In 1778, Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin became the first soldier to be drummed out of the Continental Army for sodomy.
Homosexuality Policies in the Korean War and Vietnam War
During World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the military defined homosexuality as a mental defect and officially barred homosexuals from serving based on medical criteria. However, when personnel needs increased due to combat, the military developed a habit of relaxing its screening criteria. Many homosexual men and women serviced honorably during these conflicts. Unfortunately, these periods were short-lived. As soon as the need for combat personnel decreased, the military would involuntarily discharge them.
1982 – Complete Ban of Gays in the Military
It wasn’t until 1982 that the Department of Defense officially put in writing that “homosexuality was incompatible with military service,” when they published a DOD directive stating such. According to a 1992 report by the Government Accounting Office, nearly 17,000 men and women were discharged under this new directive during the 1980s.
The Birth of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” 1993
By the end of the 1980s, reversing the military’s policy was emerging as a priority for advocates of gay and lesbian civil rights. Several lesbian and gay male members of the military came out publicly and vigorously challenged their discharges through the legal system.
By the beginning of 1993, it appeared that the military’s ban on gay personnel would soon be overturned.
President Clinton announced that he intended to keep his campaign promise by eliminating military discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, this didn’t sit well with the Republican-controlled Congress. Congressional leaders threatened to pass legislation that would bar homosexuals from serving if Clinton issued an executive order changing the policy.
After lengthy public debate and congressional hearings, the President and Senator Sam Nunn, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reached a compromise which they labeled Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue. Under its terms, military personnel would not be asked about their sexual orientation and would not be discharged simply for being gay. However having sexual relations, or displaying romantic overtures with members of the same sex, or telling anyone about their sexual orientation is considered “homosexual conduct” under the policy and is a basis for involuntary discharge.
This is was known as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and became the Department of Defense policy.
Changing Times for Society and the Military
At the time, most military leaders and young enlisted folk (who were forced to live in the barracks with a roommate) took a conservative view about allowing gays to serve openly in the military. But the attitudes of society changed through the next two decades. By 2010, most junior enlisted (the one’s who have to live in the barracks), today, saw nothing wrong with homosexuality and would not be bothered by serving with those they know to be gay. Today, almost everyone gets a single room (with no roommate) following basic training and job school. In those few situations where military personnel share living accommodations (such as deployments and ships), it is generally several military members living together.
Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell 2010
In December of 2010, the House and Senate voted in favor to repeal the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” President Obama then signed it into law December 22, 2010. A repeal is ant action of revoking or annulling a law or congressional act. The nation decided that by September 20, 2011, homosexuals would no longer fear discharge from the military by admitting to their sexual preference. Homosexuals have the freedom to serve in the armed forces openly.
Over 13,000 servicemen and women were discharged for being gay while the don’t ask, don’t tell policy was in effect. The repeal has prompted many to try and reenlist. Many men and women who have been serving came out of the closet on various media. Many organizations and groups supporting gay and lesbian military members surfaced and have even organized official public gatherings with the military.
Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages
Following the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the Department of Defense announced it would extend spousal and family benefits for same-sex marriages that would be the same as those given for traditional marriages.
Transgender Regulations Repealed 2016
Another frontier was crossed when the ban on service by openly transgender persons in the military was repealed on July 1, 2016.