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'Don't ask, don't tell': A cold shower on civil rights

By Michael Wolraich, Special to CNN
Michael Wolraich asks why the precise breakdown of the troops' opinions on "don't ask, don't tell" matters.
Michael Wolraich asks why the precise breakdown of the troops' opinions on "don't ask, don't tell" matters.
  • Michael Wolraich: Military asked troops what they feel about sharing showers with gays
  • So this means shower security is crucial to battle readiness, Wolraich asks
  • If things are this absurd, why not take it to the next level: segregated units, he writes
  • Wolraich: Polling troops is irrelevant when it's an issue of civil rights, like integration was

Editor's note: Michael Wolraich is a founder of the political blog and the author of "Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual."

(CNN) -- "If 'don't ask, don't tell' is repealed and you are assigned to bathroom facilities (that have)] an open bay shower that someone you believe to be a gay or lesbian service member also used, which are you most likely to do?" -- Question on 2010 Department of Defense Comprehensive Review Survey of Uniformed Active Duty and Reserve Service Members*

It seems that ensuring shower security for American soldiers and Marines is critical to maintaining our global military pre-eminence. If our brave men and women cannot comfortably bathe in environments free from the risk of homosexual lust, how can we expect them to battle armed Taliban insurgents and other enemies?

In order to assess the gay shower hazard and other threats to military readiness if the "don't ask, don't tell" policy were repealed, the Department of Defense surveyed American troops over the summer.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, found the results reassuring. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Repeal of the law will not prove an unacceptable risk to military readiness. ... I believe our troops and their families are ready for this," although he acknowledged, "some soldiers and Marines may want separate shower facilities."

When President Harry Truman ordered the armed forces to integrate in 1948, he did not first commission a survey.
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Sen. John McCain, despite having promised in 2006 to respect the judgment of military leaders, disputed the results of the survey. He questioned whether the sample size was representative and noted that soldiers and Marines in combat units were especially concerned about the effects of repeal.

Insisting that "one of our highest responsibilities is to the men and women of our armed services," the Senate's self-declared straight-talker demurred, "it may be premature to make such a change at this time and in this manner, without further consideration of this report and further study of the issue by Congress."

While the government certainly has profound responsibilities to the men and women of our armed services, it is not clear why the precise breakdown of their opinions on "don't ask, don't tell" matters one whit when assessing whether gays and lesbians are permitted to serve with them.

When President Harry Truman ordered the armed forces to integrate in 1948, he did not first commission a survey asking white soldiers what they would do if they had to share a shower bay with a black soldier. If he had, the response in an era of segregated bathrooms would have been unenthusiastic to say the least.

There had been some 1940s military surveys about integrating the armed forces; they showed that opposition by white soldiers ran as high as 80 percent. But as Truman knew, civil rights are not a matter of popular opinion. "Whereas it is essential that there be maintained in the armed services of the United States the highest standards of democracy," he wrote in the executive order, "there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin."

Of course, most of those who support the military's prohibitions against gays and lesbians reject the analogy. They do not believe that America's servicemen and women deserve equality of treatment without regard to sexual orientation. But if gays and lesbians have no right to equality of treatment, why bother with surveys at all? The military could just bar them from serving, as it used to.

Or they could even take the matter to the logical extreme by emulating the old racist segregationists. If sexual orientation is not a civil rights issue, why not create segregated units? Gays and lesbians could have their own barracks, their own ships and their own shower bays. They could even design their own uniforms, adding to those dull dress whites with optional leather pants, fishnets and sequined cocktail dresses.

Not only would segregated units aid military recruitment, they would boost morale among the straight troops by siphoning now-closeted gay and lesbian troops into the new homosexual units. Straight soldiers and Marines would no longer have to worry about being surreptitiously ogled in the shower by gays and lesbians pretending to be straight, so they would be able to battle Taliban insurgents with even more unity and effectiveness.

There is one potential problem. Because of a shortage of homosexual officers, straight officers would have to lead homosexual units until new gay and lesbian officers could be trained This might cause morale problems among the straight officers. Fortunately, officers are likely to have private showers, avoiding at least one problem. They could also be selected from among those who indicated that if they were assigned to a shower bay with gays or lesbians, they could choose the answer: "Take no action."

Other than the officers and the uniforms, the homosexual units would be equal in every way to the straight units: separate but equal. It's a perfect solution.

Unless, that is, sexual orientation is a civil rights issue after all.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Michael Wolraich.

*Answers: 1) Take no action 2) Discuss how we expect each other to behave and conduct ourselves while sharing a room, berth or field tent 3) Talk to a chaplain, mentor, or leader about how to handle the situation 4) Talk to a leader to see if I have other options 5) Something else 6) Don't know