Homosexuals in the Armed Forces

This cover of Time dates back to Sept. 8, 1975. Leonard Matlovich was his name. He was raised in a politically conservative environment, and in the ‘60s he headed to Vietnam as a volunteer. He held three positions there and was wounded after stepping on a mine.

He therefore did something that so many other patriots of the Third Division didn’t [sic], who now assume the right to wrap themselves up in American flags — the same one they’d used as loincloths to hide their cowardliness to defend a country that has allowed them to prosper in life. Dick Cheney, for instance, who had the cynicism to affirm, during his confirmation sessions for secretary of defense, that he hadn’t gone to Vietnam because he “had more important things to do.” I suppose that getting arrested twice for drunk driving is part of those things.

Unlike the cowardly Cheney, Matlovich was an exemplary soldier. But he had a problem that incapacitated him in the military service: He was gay. In 1973, in collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union, Matlovich publicly announced his condition. Two years later, he was expelled from the Air Force for having refused to sign a document promising not to commit any further homosexual acts.

Matlovich’s grave, in the historic Congressional Cemetery — one of the most indispensable places in Washington that, however, no one visits — has an impressive epitaph: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

On Saturday, Dec. 18, the U.S. Senate ended (with the Democratic vote and a handful of Republicans, especially from the North and Northeast, who are more centrist than their co-religionists elsewhere in the country) this historical absurdity in which only heterosexuals could serve in the armed forces. Homosexuals could too, but only if they hid their sexual identity. An absurdity, an oddity and a stupidity.

It is an absurdity because if women can, so too should homosexuals. It is one thing to serve, another one to have sexual relations. This is not permitted between men and women (I know a Marine sergeant who got expelled for having sex with a superior). And, in terms of “aberrant” behavior, ask heterosexuals, and they will tell you entertaining stories about sexual marathons performed by women soldiers in the Air Force — the same women who could not accept the “aberrant” Matlovich — in which they would compete to see who is capable of sleeping with the most men.

The truth is that, beyond the justice of the decision, the American armed forces badly need homosexual soldiers. The Pentagon is expanding its staff for future wars, which increasingly needs more troops and more intelligence experts (and probably less ultra-sophisticated missiles and less tanks, unless the Korean crisis ends up being resolved by gunfire). And every year there are around 41,000 Americans who do not enlist in the armed forces and another 1,000 that are expelled due to their sexual orientation.

The recognition of Matlovich’s [rights] is belated. But at least, with 37 years of delay, the U.S. has no choice but to agree with him.

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