Democracy in America is always taking us ahead of the game. Even their archaisms are usually pointing to the future, in spite of the apparent superiority with which we Europeans usually judge them. The American military will now be the first in the world to allow openly homosexual citizens to serve in its ranks, breaking the ban implemented 17 years ago that prohibited gays from coming out of the closet. There were serving homosexuals and it could hardly have been otherwise, just like there are gays in all the armies and in all the civilian bodies in the world, but they were forced to follow a shameful rule of discretion bearing the acronym DADT (don’t ask, don’t tell).
The legislation, which enabled homosexuals to enter the army on the rigid condition that they do not express their sexuality, was passed during President Clinton’s first term; and involuntarily, it was Clinton’s fault. It’s probable that this law, which has allowed for the expulsion of 13,000 men and women from the army since it came into being, would not have been passed if, in his first presidential press-conference, Clinton hadn’t been asked if he would keep his electoral promise that gays would be able to serve openly in the armed forces.
Clinton said yes, the scandal erupted, and then the law was passed, thanks to Congress. It was presented as a compromise which that improve upon the previous situation of open exclusion, but it was settled in such a fashion that it became an even more explicit prohibition. It was the natural blunder of an inexperienced president. And it has been corrected now, years later, by another president without much experience who, having failed on so many other parts of his program, has finally been able to fulfill the promise made by his Democrat predecessor.
Nobody can deny that this is an important milestone, and a welcome boost to Obama’s stock just at the exact moment when it appeared to be falling. But that’s the United States for you. There, the political battles are often loaded with history and emotion, always following a dramatic script. There will be movies and television shows about gays in the military, their families, their sacrifices and their patriotism.
This is a piece of legislation that both richens and updates the story of freedom in America, with its core values reinforced and then shown to the world. It’s even possible to conclude that this renewal confirms the exceptionalism of America — the idea that the United States is a nation apart, always destined to bring to reality the most ambitious dreams of humanity. But the entry of gays into the military will also raise a question, one which the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd has already discussed in "A Gay Commander in Chief: Ready or Not?"
The Commander in Chief is the president. Two years ago, many American citizens still doubted that their country was ready for an African-American president. More than a few people interpreted the result of the primaries as an anti-feminist reflex, as if the country wasn’t yet ready for a female president. Nobody can doubt that it certainly is, both for the one and for the other. Now the question is whether it is thinkable for a self-declared homosexual to appear among the next candidates, and whether we would be introduced to a partner. And then, there's following doubt: Which is better, killing two birds with one stone and electing a lesbian president, or merely electing a gay man?
These are not trivialities. In Europe there are already gay mayors in many large cities, but nobody has yet dared to run in a national election with a sexual identity divergent from the conventional. That’s not all: It is more and more common to see the image of the conventional family form a part of the personal baggage accompanying the candidates for a country’s presidency. This is true to such a degree that it is difficult to imagine an electoral campaign which does not exalt, both in substance and appearance, the traditional roles of the ordinary family unit. And it so happens that the only person who has escaped from this convention and accepts his image as sexually adventurous is someone like Berlusconi, one of the most populist and rightist politicians Europe has seen in years.