To cop a cliche from old episodes of M*A*S*H:
Do you hear that? asks Hawkeye or Trapper.
I don't hear anything, replies the other.
That's what I mean. The shelling's stopped.
Well, the end of the odious anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy (DADT), one of the very first acts by Bill Clinton upon taking office back in 1993, is like that. It's officially over and it ended with an anti-climax reminiscent of a three-day amyl nitrate bender, sez USA Today and every other news outlet that bothered to cover it.
With the lifting of the ban, the Defense Department will publish revised regulations to reflect the new law allowing gays to serve openly. The revisions, such as eliminating references to banned homosexual service, are in line with policy guidance that was issued by top Pentagon officials in January, after Obama signed the legislation that did away with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
The lifting of the 18-year-old ban also brings a halt to all pending investigations, discharges and other administrative proceedings that were begun under the Clinton-era law.
Existing standards of personal conduct, such as those pertaining to public displays of affection, will continue regardless of sexual orientation.
That wasn't so hard, was it? Yet it was a very long time coming. Back in the January 1996 issue of Reason, David Link wrote about the cynical context that gave rise to Bill Clinton's rule:
Get out there and tell your stories, [Clinton said even as he was passing DADT]. Let people see what you've been going through, feel your pain. That'll convince 'em. But the failure of that strategy during the military debate had nothing to do with a lack of good personal stories. From Perry Watkins to Grethe Cammermeyer to Joe Steffan, the gay community brought out its best and its brightest to illustrate the case. Randy Shilts wrote a whole book of the most compelling stories imaginable, and the result was "don't ask, don't tell."
Last year, John Stossel editorialized against DADT at Reason.com:
America is one of many countries that forbid openly gay people to serve in the military. Others are: Cuba, China, Egypt, Greece, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and Venezuela.
See a pattern?
With a few exceptions, those are not countries where free people want to live.
By contrast, Australia, the United Kingdom, Israel, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, and Spain all allow gay people to serve.
I grew up in a place that went apoplectic in the mid-1970s when, shades of The Bad News Bears, some pre-pubescent girls wanted to play Little League Baseball in the MYAA (Middletown Youth Athletic Association) rather than be consigned to slow-pitch softball in the MYGAL (Middletown Youth Girls Athletic League; clever!). A group of angry parents—who insisted that if boys and girls played together on the baseball diamond, the result would be the creation of a generation of homosexual teens (they didn't really seem to care about lesbians)—even broke off from officially sanctioned Little League to form their own group where you could talk about Dick Pole and Pete LaCock without smirking.
While I defend the right of private organizations to set their own membership rules without interference (and underscore that the United States military is no private organization but the ultimate public one), I bring up the Little League example to underscore how many fears of race, ethnic, gender, and class mixing are simply hysterical and based on nothing more than atavistic terrors of who knows what. Boys and girls play together in various leagues—hell, they even go to school together sometimes—and the effect on sexual orientation seems to be right around zero.
Which brings me to another interesting story that's in the papers lately: The continuing growth in the acceptance of interracial marriages, which Gallup finds is at an all-time high of 86 percent:
From the writeup:
Americans' acceptance of marriage between people of different races continues to grow and is approaching unanimity, with 86% now approving of marriages between blacks and whites. Widespread approval of interracial marriage is a dramatic shift from roughly 50 years ago when 4% approved, and even 20 years ago, when about half as many approved as do so today.
The trend mimics the growing support for gay marriage – though Americans are still less likely to accept that practice than interracial marriage. It also follows the trend toward increasing racial tolerance on other measures such as voting for a black president and an increasing belief in progress and equality for blacks in the U.S. more generally.
I would argue that these are all good trends from a specifically libertarian perspective because they show that as a society we are more likely to treat people as individuals rather than first and foremost as members of groups. Certainly the end of laws and official rules proscribing equal treatment of citizens is a good thing from a libertarian perspective.
In a discussion of our book, The Declaration of Independents, Matt Welch got into a bit of a dust-up with the Mises Institute's David Gordon over this sort of thing (read more here, here, and here). That back-and-forth mostly centered over the defintion of tolerance and whether Matt and I insist that anyone calling themselves libertarian subscribe to our particular tastes and aesthetic sensibilities. The short answer to all that: Of course we do not insist that a preference for rock music, or Pop Tarts, or (god forbid) The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or whatever is the only way to be.
We use tolerance in the classical liberal sense of the term, especially as it was construed in debates over religious freedom: You don't use state powers and laws to enforce a single set of values as it may apply to voluntary associations. To tolerate is not to endorse; it's a recognition of equality under the law and that suasion should be used rather than force (whether legal force, as in the case of laws banning racial mixing, or extra-legal force as practiced by the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist organizations). Just as a society that tolerates religious freedom will be filled with debate and disagreement over the differences between, say, Episcopalianism and Congregationalism, a tolerant, pluralistic society will be filled with arguments over various ways to live. At times, these will be vicious and hysterical arguments, as were the ones over gay equality and interracial marriage.
I think on issues that move from simple aesthetics to more important issues, such as the role of sexual orientation as it relates to military service or the right of people to marry whomever they want, it's hard to mount convincing polemics that don't simply rely on prejudice and superstition and appeals to collective identities. In fact, that's why appeals to abstractions such as nature, common decency, and what have you—all of which were used to buttress legal proscriptions against equality for minorities, gays, women, and other disfavored groups—have faded over time. They are not particularly strong once that first flash of reactionary emotionalism is questioned. That's especially the case in the world Matt and I describe in The Declaration of Independents, which is one in which (we argue) cultural, economic, and even political power is being decentralized and democratized. More people can route around obstacles to living on their own terms, which makes it harder for any source of authority—whether coercive or voluntarist in nature—to enforce its vision of right and wrong.
But as we can probably all agree, being wrong shouldn't preclude our being free from making arguments. It would be a pretty silent planet if that were the case.
Using the Gordon/Welch kerfuffle as a starting point, Token Libertarian Girl asks whether being libertarian means you have to be socially liberal. I'd say yes, at least in terms of buying into the larger system of toleration. But within that framework, knock yourself out slagging progressive rock, Members Only jackets, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, whatever. Her YouTube channel is here.