Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ron Paul & Don't ask, Don't tell

Earlier this month, I travelled to Washington, DC, for a number of reasons. Among them I was visiting various Congressmen from around Texas to discuss the Military Readiness Enhancement Act (HR 1246) and Don't ask, Don't tell. I requested and was given an appointment with Rep. Ron Paul.

Ron Paul was high on my list of priorities for a number of reasons. First, despite an independent Libertarian Party, Ron Paul is often seen as the face of libertarianism in the USA. Second, his comments on DADT in previous forums have indicated he has a lack of knowledge as to what the law really says. Third, I wanted him to have the opportunity to explain himself face-to-face with someone who had been discharged from the military under DADT.

To start, allow me to share Rep. Paul's comments on DADT. During last year's GOP debate on 3 June 2007:

Q: Most of our closest allies, including Great Britain and Israel, allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military. Is it time to end "Don't ask, don't tell" policy and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the US military?

A: I think the current policy is a decent policy. And the problem that we have with dealing with this subject is we see people as groups, as they belong to certain groups and that they derive their rights as belonging to groups. We don't get our rights because we're gays or women or minorities. We get our rights from our creator as individuals. So every individual should be treated the same way. So if there is homosexual behavior in the military that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. But if there's heterosexual sexual behavior that is disruptive, it should be dealt with. So it isn't the issue of homosexuality, it's the concept and the understanding of individual rights. If we understood that, we would not be dealing with this very important problem.

In this statement, Rep. Paul talks a lot about theory - that we derive our rights as individuals - but he totally neglects the practical, day-to-day aspects of living under different sets of rules for different groups of people. More bluntly, he doesn't answer the question. If Rep. Paul truly believes in individual liberty and individual rights, he should have been more clear and direct and said that DADT should go and the existing laws against "disruptive behavior" should apply to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

Later in 2007 he spoke to conservative Christian commentator and radio host John Lofton:

LOFTON: We'll try to stop anyone from getting in the military who is a homosexual, who is an adulterer, who is a fornicator, and then other categories that indicate a character flaw. Why we shouldn't try to do that?

PAUL: Looking it in protecting the military if they are going to perform the services, and they are imperfect — because we're all imperfect and we all sin. If a heterosexual or homosexual sins, that to me is the category of dealing with their own soul. Since we cannot have only perfect people going in the military I want to separate the two because I don't want to know the heterosexual flaws, nor the homosexual flaws and that's why I got in some trouble with some of the civil libertarians because I don't have any problem with Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Because I don't think that, for the practicality of running a military, I'd just as soon not know every serious thing that any heterosexual or homosexual did, and those flaws have to do with all our flaws because each and everyone one of us has those imperfections.

In this instance, I believe, Rep. Paul does a little better because he doesn't give in to Lofton's blanket condemnation of gay people. He also let's us know pretty clearly that he doesn't know what DADT really is and what it means. Rep. Paul was operating under the same assumption that many Americans do when they hear "don't ask, don't tell" - they assume it means exactly that and nothing more.

When I sat down with Rep. Paul, I showed him these two quotes and told him that I had been discharged under DADT. Rep. Paul seemed a little uncomfortable bringing those up, which tells me he knows he probably didn't say the "right" thing in answering those questions as he did.

The interesting part of the conversation was that he saw DADT as a protection for gay soldiers. He admitted to not having read the law and the various service regulations, so a good part of the conversation was geared toward making him understand that DADT does nothing to protect the gay troop, but actually puts him or her into a more vulnerable position. DADT is not a hot-button issue, even in the LGBT community, so most politicians, even the sympathetic ones are uninformed on the issue. They also have a tendency to confuse their talking points, hence the reason it is often hard to figure them out or they give the appearance of flip-flopping. A consistent philosophy would go a long way to keeping them accurate on everything they say.

Rep. Paul was concerned that the Military Readiness Enhancement Act would simply repeal DADT and not provide any protections for gay people in uniform. I had a copy of the current law and a copy of the bill. I showed him specifically where MREA would add the words "sexual orientation" to the current nondiscrimination clauses. He got philosophical and asked me what I thought of that. I responded by telling him that 1.) the military is public institution funded by taxpayers, including gay Americans, not a private institution funded by individuals who should be free to choose who they will hire and fire; and, 2.) the additional words are "sexual orientation" - not "homosexuality" - and since everyone has a sexual orientation, the law truly protects everyone. If a straight soldier were to have a gay commander, and the straight soldier believes the gay commander is showing favoritism to a gay soldier, then the straight soldier would have the same right to file an equal opportunity complaint as a gay soldier would have to file a complaint against a straight commander.

Actions speak louder than words and as the conversation was winding down, Rep. Paul went through the folder I had prepared to leave with him. He asked about the emails I had included from my conversations with the Republican Liberty Caucus . He also picked up the stories I had included regarding Major Alan G. Rogers who died earlier this year when he used his own body to block an IED explosion, saving the lives of two soldiers. Alan was gay, and while I never knew him, we had some mutual friends and acquaintances. The Washington Post willfully hid any reference to Alan's sexual orientation and it was later made public through the Washington Blade and the Post issued a statement from their ombudsman. I watched him read the first page of the story - where it tells how Alan died - without speaking a word.

The visit to Rep. Paul's office was one of the most productive of the entire trip. While I didn't get any commitment from him one way or another, I think he was left with some food for thought. Something I have learned about lobbying on any issue, is that building a relationship with the representative and his or her staff is probably more effective than simply flooding their email in-boxes with mass-produced letters.