With the news yesterday that the Marine Corps is ordering all spouse clubs on their bases to either accept gay spouses or take their business and operations off post, the service took a step in the direction of spouse equality that no other service or even the DoD itself has had the bravery to do -- they redefined "discrimination" among their ranks to include sexual orientation.
That the Corps is the first to take this step is interesting for a few reasons. First, their leader, Gen. James F. Amos, was the only service chief to tell Congress that he considered the plan to lift the policy known as Don't Ask Don't Tell, which blocked gays from serving openly, was a bad idea. This article even goes so far as to call him "the face of opposition to lifting the ban."
Gen. Amos was also among the first to publicly admit that the end of the policy was a "non-event." Because just like with the end of almost all rules based on prejudice, when the wall of division was torn down, the fears weren't realized. They weren't even noticed.
But that no other service has bothered with this isn't surprising, even though it has most certainly been a problem. Why? Because the DoD's overall leaders haven't either. From the story on Military.com:
"The Defense Department has not issued similar guidance covering all service branches, and for now is taking the stance that the Fort Bragg spouses club is conforming with the existing rules because the non-discrimination clause does not extend to sexual orientation."I realize we're dealing with legal wrangling in the above paragraph. They are saying that, technically, sexual orientation is not included in that policy. Technically, they can't enforce that as non-discrimination because it isn't spelled-out.
Solution? Change the policy.
Which doesn't seem like it would be that difficult. Except that it is. The DoD seems to always been so far behind the times that the issue in every other circle has left them in the dust. But gay rights is not one of those topics. According to this report, there are still 10 states that do not protect the rights of gay and transgender employees to be hired in private companies -- they only protect them in public employment at varying levels.
Why? Because there are still fears of the unknown -- of how gays will interact with the rest of society.
In the classic "The Nature of Prejudice," author Gordon Allport talks about some of the cause of prejudice being fear of the unknown. And that is most certainly the case with the DoD's non-discrimination policy. Rather than make the decision to pony-up and give it a try, it's easier and less scary to just keep things as they always were.
Easier, but wrong.