General Peter Pace, the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has clarified his earlier remarks about gays in the military. Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee this afternoon, and prompted by questions from Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, Pace indicated that he might be open to changing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual troops.
“Are there wonderful Americans who happen to be homosexual serving in the military? Yes,” Pace said. “. . . we should respect those who want to serve the nation but not through the law of the land, condone activity that, in my upbringing, is counter to God's law.” And then, the kicker: "I would be very willing and able and supportive” to changes to the policy “to continue to allow the homosexual community to contribute to the nation without condoning what I believe to be activity — whether it to be heterosexual or homosexual — that in my upbringing is not right,” he said, indicating support for policies that would treat behavior by all service personnel, regardless of sexual orientation, the same.
His personal feelings about morality notwithstanding (and he seems to finally understand that perhaps personal views aren't the proper ingredients for military policy), the General's remarks are a welcome change of Pace from his comments in March, when he referred to homosexuality as "immoral."
In March of this year, Pace caused a firestorm of controversy by defending the military's ban and offending gay troops. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network condemned Pace's remarks, and called for an apology. The apology wasn't forthcoming today, but the testimony before Congress was a step in the right direction.
SLDN welcomed Pace's testimony today, but clarified that, if he truly believes in equal treatment for every service member, he should be first in line to call for repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
“General Pace is right in his assertion that lesbian and gay personnel should be treated equally alongside their heterosexual colleagues,” said Aubrey Sarvis, the group's executive director. “’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ however, creates a separate set of standards for gay personnel. The law is about status, and not conduct. Policies regulating conduct are already on the books and should be applied without regard to sexual orientation, but simply being lesbian or gay should not be grounds for dismissal from the armed forces.”
Indeed, the ban on open service says that, just by being lesbian or gay, you can be dismissed from military service. The Uniform Code of Military Justice already penalizes conduct, including adultery and other sexual acts, regardless of a service member's sexual orientation. In his statement today, Pace defended those regulations, but made clear that gays do serve in the armed forces, and a change in policy to allow them to continue to do so would be proper. And that's good news.
SLDN, for one, is hoping the General, who retires on Sunday, will remain resolute in his view and become part of the conversation about toppling this ban once and for all.
“We welcome General Pace’s comments today, and hope he will continue to speak out for the equal treatment of every service member, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said Sarvis. “The lesbian and gay community has a long history of service in our military, and that commitment and dedication should be appreciated. SLDN looks forward to continuing this dialogue with General Pace.”
If General Pace elects to be a part of that dialogue, he could be an important ally in the fight to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And that would be setting the right pace for changing this unfair and un-American law.