Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not perfect but a start I suppose

It would seem that the powers that be in our fine government have finally gotten around to realizing that preventing openly gay people from serving in the military is not such a great idea.

While not being fully repealed there were a lot of changes made to the policy, both good and bad:

* Peers who accuse service members of being gay will have to testify under oath, making it more difficult for hearsay, rumors, or vengeance to trigger a homosexual inquiry
* People who are motivated by a wish to cause "personal or professional harm" to suspected gay people--i.e. homophobes or even those who oppose gays in the military--will not be considered viable informants for the purpose of starting an inquiry
* The officer conducting the inquiry will now have to have a rank of O5 or higher, making it harder (but hardly impossible) for a low-ranking homophobic officer to end a gay person's career through a rogue investigation
* The standard of evidence for an actual hearing before a military board will be raised to a "preponderance of the evidence," rather than simply "sufficient evidence," again making it harder for the process to end in discharge
* The use of the notorious phrase "propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts" has been limited (but not eliminated), meaning that the focus will be shifted to actual conduct or statements rather than someone's idea of what might demonstrate a likelihood or possibility that a soldier will, at some point, engage in homosexual conduct
* Observed behavior by a third party which "amounts to a non-verbal statement" of homosexual identity in the eyes of a "reasonable person" is no longer considered admissible evidence to trigger an inquiry
* Service members will be protected from discharge in their confidential conversations with clergy, psychologists, medical professionals, lawyers, and security clearance investigators

So from the looks of things it appears that the ante has been upped on those who try to get someone discharged (because let's face it if someone is using DADT to get someone kicked out chances are, but not certain, they have homophobic motives) over their sexuality. Hopefully the days of just whispering to the commanding officer that crewman/woman "_____ is gay.", and then standing back and watching in joy as their career goes down in flames will die with this. Also I think requiring actually sworn in testimony instead of just hearsay will help keep the cowards and gay hatred in check.

Along with this there are limits on acceptable sources of admissible evidence. Now homosexuals will have their confidential conversation with clergy, psychologists, medical professionals, lawyers, and security clearance investigators. I can imagine this would lift a major burden off of their shoulders.

However as I say this is just an easing of Don't Ask Don't Tell, not the total removal of it:

* The full steps the White House and Pentagon could have taken, including full suspension of discharges by executive order, or announcing that no "findings" under the law should be made, were not taken
* The level of rank for initiating a discharge is not as high as it could have been (1 star instead of 2 or 3 star), and Secretary Gates said that was because, the higher rank you require, the fewer officers there are who can practicably initiate a discharge; some of us were hoping that was the point!
* Third-party outings were not barred, just restricted
* History shows that earlier attempts to make a bad, unnecessary, harmful failure of a policy "more humane" have been unsuccessful, in part because the changes were not enforced consistently, and in part because beating your wife gently is still beating your wife.

Obviously the fact that DATD still exists, albeit in a lesser form, is a downside to this. From there its still a problem that the rank restriction on initiating a discharge was not raised as high as some had hoped, thus there are still a lot of officers that can initiate the discharge proceedings. While third party outings will be more difficult to pull off they are still possible. Meaning that while it won't be as easy as simply whispering to the commanding officer to ruin someone it is still within the ability of a third party to do damage. And there is something to be said about easing up on harmful policies. I mean yeah she may have only kept you from visiting your kids a few times, but she still violated your visitation rights.

So while this is most certainly not the ideal fix for the DADT policy (that would be to get rid of the damn thing altogether) it is a good start. This does not mean that gay troops have been relieve of their worries because as you can see their worries and fears are still very, very real.