US Senator John McCain, once a centrist “maverick” before his presidential run, went apoplectic in the minutes leading up to Congress’s historic vote to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy banning gays from serving openly in the US military.

“Today is a very sad day,” McCain lamented, unable to bring himself to pepper the speech with his customary “my friends” catch-cry. “There will be high-fives over all the liberal bastions of America … but there will be gold stars put up in windows in rural towns and communities all over America who don’t partake in the elite schools that ban military recruiters from campus, that don’t partake in the salons of Georgetown.”

It’s a quote that encompasses every base hit in a culture war that shows no signs of a Christmas ceasefire. In military parlance, gold stars refer to soldiers killed in battle. If the assertion was too subtle, McCain made himself clearer: “You go up to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Marines are up there with no legs, none. You’ve got marines at Walter Reed with no limbs.” Who is responsible for those lost limbs: the gays, and liberals, in the salons of Georgetown, an affluent university suburb of Washington. “I don’t want that to happen,” he reiterated.

More than 14,000 service members have been discharged under the policy since Bill Clinton signed it into law 17 years ago as a compromise intended to reduce homos-xuality-related discharges.

The cloture vote to end the Republican filibuster passed 63-33, three votes more than required, and the repeal itself passed by an even greater majority: 65-31. Support was always there, it just took manoeuvring through a partisan-gridlocked playing field that had already blocked repeal three times this year.

If gay and lesbian soldiers were offended by being likened to soldier-maiming road-side IEDs, it didn’t halt them celebrating the historic moment throughout the weekend. Just hours after the vote Lance Corporal Byron Roman married his partner Jay Ely in Washington in front of a monument to Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, a military reformer of his day. Roman has served back-to-back deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now risks his veteran’s pension because the military regulations that necessitate discharge could take a year or more to change.

Under the proposed new policy, veterans were who lost their entitlements due to a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell discharged will not be granted those benefits back. Graduates of the military academies who had to repay their college degree will not receive reimbursement. A gay soldier with a partner and kids will receive less pay than a straight soldier with a partner and kids, nor will have access to married quarters on bases.

The Pentagon also rejected the advice of the Australian Defence Force, as well as the forces of Israel, UK and Canada, who all argued successful integration required a firm force-wide stance on discrimination, harassment and bias. The Pentagon report this month suggested adding s-xual orientation to existing s-x, race, religion and national origin anti-discrimination policies would upset the current force and be seen as granting “special rights” to minorities. The same reason was given for why gay soldiers with families should receive fewer entitlements.

It took the Australian Defence Force 13 years after repealing its own gay ban to fix the entitlement gap for gay and lesbian service members in 2005.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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