Military Policy, Gay Epithets--No Big Deal : Why feign offense at words that merely echo the official line of defense and public policy?

Robert Scheer is a former Times national correspondent

What's the big deal whether House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to his colleague as Barney Frank or Barney Fag? If gays are so reprehensible as not to be trusted to serve in the military, aren't they deserving of a derogatory epithet? When blacks were kept out of the Army, we knew what to call them.

Frank is an avowed homosexual, which means that he practices a lifestyle that is against the will of God. How do we know it's against the will of God? Because conservative congressional thinkers who have studied up on these matters tell us so. As Rep. Robert Dornan (R-Garden Grove) put it, homosexuality is "based upon observable offenses against God and the natural order."

The problem is that, although not part of the natural order, homosexuals undermine the traditional family by often popping up right in their midst. House Speaker Newt Gingrich's own half-sister turns out to be a lesbian, and a Democrat at that. Remember Robert Mosbacher, commerce secretary and 1992 Bush reelection campaign chairman, whose daughter was one? This kind of personal contact with homosexuals can be morally disorienting. There was a big flap when Mosbacher met with gay leaders. Gingrich--not one to let family ties interfere with his politics--and seven other Republican congressmen chastised Mosbacher in a letter to President Bush calling the meeting "a slap in the face to every voter who affirms the traditional family."

Refusing to talk to gays would not be an attack on their rights since they're not supposed to have any. That's why the 1992 Republican platform said "sexual preference" is not a civil right. What we must worry about is the right of heterosexual families to be free of the threat of homosexuals promoting their lifestyle by appearing to lead normal lives.

"The so-called anti-gay agenda of religious conservatives is geared toward nothing more than preserving people's freedom to decide for themselves how to respond to gays," Armey said in an article on "Resisting the Gay Agenda" in the January, 1994, issue of the Policy Review journal of the Heritage Foundation.

Armey was supporting religious conservatives like the Rev. Lou Sheldon, who responds to gays as "the most pernicious evil today." The House Republican leadership is very respectful of the Christian right. On Jan. 14, Gingrich told a town meeting in Kennesaw, Ga., that he's going to hold hearings at Sheldon's request exposing how AIDS education programs promote homosexuality because "I don't believe that the taxpayers should pay a program to teach you effective methods of sadomasochistic interaction." Thankfully, the Speaker said, "I don't want to get into too much graphics here," but he got a lot of applause anyway.

But you can't always come up with good graphics. That's the problem with this issue of gays in the military, which Gingrich and Armey have fought. Thousands of homosexuals are serving in U.S. units all over the world, as they always have been, and you wouldn't know that they were gay by what they do in uniform. It can get discouraging for folks like Gingrich--all that time investigating the Tailhook scandal and not one example of homosexual harassment.

Last year, the Defense Department spent a lot of taxpayer money on a RAND study examining gays in military forces around the world and found no evidence of a problem. RAND concluded that known homosexuals serving in the armies of Israel, France, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway were "circumspect in their behavior."

But as Armey points out, if you officially let homosexuals serve, it would throw "enormous moral authority" behind the view that "homosexuality is normal and healthy and should be treated as such."

That's the shocking message of the NBC movie, "Serving in Silence," the story of Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, who served 26 years as an Army nurse without a complaint about her professional performance or personal behavior. The Army even gave her a Bronze Star for tending the wounded in a combat zone in Vietnam. In 1985, she was the Veteran Administration's nurse of the year. Meanwhile, she got a doctorate and, though divorced, maintained a nurturing relationship with her four sons. She was out to make general until she told an Army investigator that she was a lesbian. He suggested she lie. Her commander so admired her work that he also suggested she lie. The colonel said she respected herself and the Army too much to lie. So she told the truth and was booted out of the service. Talk about a threat to traditional values.

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