June 1st, 2010
03:16 AM ET

My Take: Defenders of 'don't ask, don't tell' want to impose their religion

Editor's Note: Harry Knox is Director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith Program and is a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

By Harry Knox, Special to CNN

Last week, the House of Representatives and a Senate committee both took historic steps forward in protecting the liberty and equality of all Americans, by moving to repeal the discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that prohibits lesbian, gay and bisexual people from serving openly in our nation’s military.

This policy has seen thousands of dedicated service members discharged simply because of who they are, costing our nation millions of dollars and many highly-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - including hundreds with critical language skills desperately needed in our ongoing fight against terrorism around the world.

But some right-wing groups, notably the Family Research Council, see the desire of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve our nation openly and honestly not as a commitment to sacrifice everything for the liberty of all Americans, but rather as a threat to the liberties of some. They claim that those whose faith traditions disapprove of homosexuality will no longer be able to serve as military chaplains if we permit open service.

Never mind that for the life of a nation grounded in religious pluralism, our military and its chaplains have served on behalf of the freedom of all Americans, including those who follow a faith that any individual chaplain might consider blasphemous.

Chaplains are fully aware of their duty to all who they counsel. Writing in support of a letter from dozens of religious organizations calling for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” - including the Episcopal Church, the Union of Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church - Captain John F. Gundlach, a retired U.S. Navy Chaplain noted that:

... as military chaplains, we routinely work with service members whose faith traditions and belief systems are different from ours. The idea that repeal of DADT will infringe on our religious liberty is insulting to all the serving chaplains who professionally minister to and with people of diverse beliefs every day.

But the Family Research Council and their ilk do not truly believe in protecting the liberty of all Americans, as our dedicated service members, gay and straight, do. They instead are seeking to rewrite history - and the core tenets of our Constitutional freedoms - in order to lead new generations back to the bad old days of repression of individual liberties.

They claim to be the voice of religion while ignoring that a growing number of congregations and denominations see discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as anathema to their core belief that God calls on us to love one another and to practice justice.

In reality, this isn’t about chaplains at all. Groups like the Family Research Council continue to characterize religious liberty and equality for LGBT Americans as an either/or proposition, willfully misrepresenting our nation’s historical experience and ignoring the realities of a nation of many faiths and beliefs that has dealt with such questions for centuries.

Such groups have claimed that federal hate crimes laws will silence preachers, ignoring those laws’ robust protections for free speech and religious expression, as well as the experience in the many states with such protections already in place.

Those groups suggest that federal employment discrimination protections will burden religious employers and co-workers, but belittle a robust religious exemption that has served the interests of religious groups under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for nearly four decades.

They claim marriage equality will force them to support an idea of marriage contrary to their beliefs, yet ignore when state after state adopts language to guarantee that no church or religious leader need recognize or celebrate such marriages, as well as the long history of religious groups, like the Roman Catholic Church, setting their own rules on marriage.

With “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal within sight, lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans will soon be able to serve our nation, and protect our liberties, without being forced to lie.

Those who would call that commitment to America a threat to our core values are beyond cynical. Groups like the Family Research Council, screaming for preservation of their privilege to discriminate, are not defending liberty. They instead seek to impose their particular brand of religion on all of us by making it the law of the land.

That is not the America we know and love, and for which many Americans, gay and straight, have fought and died.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Harry Knox.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Gay rights • Military • Opinion

soundoff (260 Responses)
  1. Mike

    Dig up some articles from the late 1940s. You'll find exactly the same kinds of arguments about racial integration in the armed forces that you're hearing now about gays in the miltary. (Can't expect decent people to fight next to coloreds, can't trust colored men in a battle, don't use the army for liberal politics, the soldiers are against it, the civilians don't know what they're doing, there's a war on and this isn't the right time, etc.) It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

    June 1, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • D

      It has more to do with people being humiliated by being in compromising situations with people that they know to be attracted to people of their gender than ANY discrimination. Most people don't seem to care if people are gay – but they would SURELY mind showering with someone they KNEW to be gay or living with them in the same bedroom. It's not a matter of discrimination it is a matter of privacy. Get your mind out of the gutter 🙂 Not everyone is an enemy OR a victim, sheesh.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
    • Steve88

      but D, it is already know that gays are in the military, what should it matters if a gay or a gal is serving their country? Bigotry and unprovable/unknowable/unquestionable dogma of the religions which (many/some) believers may place all of their morality around comepletely, is at the heart of the problem here. (not that i am specifically against religion either, but some their ideas/teachings based purely on faith are too unquestionable.)

      June 2, 2010 at 2:06 am |
    • Steve88

      typo; known* - someone would have cried... i am sure of it >< haha (also i didn't mean to come off comepletely anti-religion. ya, there is good things too and not all bad ideas come from belief in religion or the super natural.)

      June 2, 2010 at 2:13 am |
    • Mike

      The showering issue is a red herring and a flimsy justification for bigotry. One of the arguments against integration was that whites shouldn't have to worry about black soldiers (who, it went without saying were unable to control their lust) attacking their wives in quarters. This is just as ridiculous.

      June 2, 2010 at 5:26 am |
  2. Jason

    This is a good write up. I feel it offers an honest
    opinion. Much like the other article that opposes
    it. Democracy ecompasses many great things, one of
    which involves free speech and debate. Democracy also
    gives a place for everyone to be equal and have the
    same levity of speech, rights and opportunity. The
    real question here is why are these things being denied
    from any particiular group at all? There are many
    arguements for and against this topic but what it all
    comes down to is equality or lack thereof. I am a gay
    man so it's easy for me to feel the heat of this inequality.
    I can understand how some non-gays may have an issue with
    understanding LGBT people. I lived in denial for years
    because I was afraid of what might happen to me and my
    personal relationships (family and friends) if I were to
    make public who it is that I truely am. I was
    raised in a strict Christian household and attended a
    private school for most of my school years. The argument
    regarding nature or nurture is clear to me. I was
    raised in an enviroment that wasn't condusive to being
    gay and yet, here I am. I was never abused as a child and I
    had solid role models to guide me in my formative years.
    To me, its simply a matter of genetics. Derrik, you have a
    question about the gay lifestyle being unnatural. Well, let
    me pose a question. People are born without the ability to
    reproduce. Sometimes the human genetic code changes and as
    a result, we see things happen that are small (in comparison
    to the population as a whole). You cited that for procreation
    to happen, you need a male and a female. That is a true
    statement because nature dictates what is necessary for us to
    reproduce. My question to you is, some people are born infertile.
    should these people who aren't able to reproduce live a life
    of loneliness simply because they can't have offspring? I think
    not! The human experiece involves a wider array of things and
    its not limited to the ability to reproduce.
    I support repeal of DADT as well as DOMA simply because both
    establish and maintain a means of inequality. Before DADT went
    into law, there was a study and subsequent report much like the
    one being done now. The outcome of that report (forgive me, but
    I can't recall the name of it)
    showed the military was ready for integraion of gay men and women
    into the armed services, openly. This report was supressed and
    buried until recently ( I think its called the green report).
    I have never served in the military and I would never entertain
    the idea, save for two conditions: 1. repeal of DADT and 2. draft
    What each and every voting American needs to ask themselves is:
    What's worth fighting for? Without holding to the basics of what
    our democracy stands for, whats the point at all? If we hold any
    group down and hold back their rights as individuals, we have
    failed horribly!

    June 1, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
    • D

      It's awesome you are comfortable with yourself, everyone should be. That said, it's unfair to make anyone room with someone that is essentially of the opposite gender. Until and unless the military has separate rooms for EVERY military member it is unfair to force the members into quarters with behavior that makes them uncomfortable. I am a straight woman – I have absolutely no problem with a woman or man being gay. I would not shower, change, or live with a gay woman however. It's unfair to even ask me to, because in my mind it is the exact same thing as asking me to shower, change, or live with a man I'm not in relationship with. It's not that I think I'm "all that" – it is that you are AWARE that person is attracted to or interested in members of your gender – so it is awkward at BEST – humiliating at worst. It is absolutely not fair at all and shouldn't even be considered without first ensuring members have their OWN quarters. Period.

      June 1, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • Jason

      @D When you join the military, you lose the luxury of privacy in these matters. From what I hear from the service men i know. You get over the idea of showering privately in a hurry! I think, If you have an issue with showering in front of those you are counting on to save your life, you probably shouldn't be enlisting yourself in the army. I shared a house with 2 straight(male) friends of mine for years. I was out to them and it wasn't an issue. I am a masculine gay guy (as all who currently serve are) There was never an "awkward" feeling to it. Granted, we didn't shower together. Of course, you realize a gay male isn't attracted to every male in sight right? Just because a man is gay doesn't mean he will disrespect the privacy of others. There are limits and the majority of gay men are aware of those limits. It takes a person of a certain character to join the service in the first place. Let's not forget the kind of people our soldiers are. I think they are more than capable of handling this change without skipping a beat.

      June 2, 2010 at 12:18 am |
    • D

      I happen to know many many military after the total of 39 years I spent as a dependent – they are FINE people. I explained succinctly that it is a matter of privacy – and there is not much of that in the military – whether someone IS attracted to you or not, the potential IS IN FACT awkward. It is. If you're not clothed it MOST CERTAINLY is!

      June 2, 2010 at 12:24 am |
    • Jason

      Well, by that logic we should ban all gay students from attending schools and colleges. or better yet, not allow them into schools and colleges unless they build a special gay dorm/facility . I agree with you. Showering in public is an strange situation but it's something you have to get over in these scenarios especially if you put yourself there willfully. Even as a gay male, it was strange for me showering with my straight classmates or at the gym just as its strange for straight people in the same situation but I am a human being who is capable of respect for others privacy and personal boundaries. I mean no disrespect to anyone and surely our (gay)servicemen/women can exercise the same!

      June 2, 2010 at 1:00 am |
    • D

      So, by your standards, you are saying that everyone else should be uncomfortable so YOU are not, how is THAT fair then? Listen – my daughter is bi, my hairdresser is gay, and I helped raise a young man who is in fact also gay. I don't have a problem in the world at ALL with it – but it's not fair to put that on others, either. Not in the situations I've described... if you think it was something that made you uncomfortable I cannot even fathom how you think it would be fair to do the same to others? That doesn't seem right, either.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:10 am |
    • Jason

      I am saying, I am uncomfortable showering in front of people(just as the vast majority of the populations is)! What's not to be understood about my previous post? Gay or straight, it is an uncomfortable situation!! If I were a straight person, it would be the same level of discomfort!!! If I were showering with women it would be uncomfortable, If I were showering with ANY OTHER PERSON OTHER THEN MYSELF, it would be uncomfortable! It doesn't matter what my (or your) orientation is...the situation is weird!

      June 2, 2010 at 1:20 am |
    • D

      And you don't think it would be more so? Ummmm interesting point of view. As I said, I only have the experience of 39 years as a military dependent... in my experience, the only REASONABLE ANSWER is to guarantee separate facilities for every single person, so that no one is forced to feel uncomfortable. Period. That's the solution. End of story. I really can't even begin to see how that is not clear to any logical person. So, that said... end of story.... I cleared it up, gave the solution – alert the Pentagon. LOL Have a great night 🙂

      June 2, 2010 at 1:27 am |
    • Jason

      fine! my point is: even if there were no gays in the military, just all straight people....are you following me? people are not comfortable showering with other people....you still with me? So, assuming it's all straight people....you with me? They have to deal with the situation (still no gays in the picture) of showering with other people!! If they can't get over that, they should not have guns! I think you are downplaying the service members ability to cope with this situation! I get it, trust me! I get it! But don't turn it into a gay issue. Your argument should be : The military should make separate showers for people. Not: the govt shouldnt repeal DADT . Have a good night D.

      June 2, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  3. Derrik

    My point is that the line between professing your beliefs in free speech and that of hate is getting blurred. I don't believe in condemning people, shunning them from work, food, etc. I do, however believe I have the right to say if I feel something is wrong without someone accusing me of hate. That isn't the case, but there are some extreme examples where some of these protesters need to be stopped.

    That Westboro "Bapist Church" is a prime example. I put quotations around Baptist and Church because I do not believe they are either. They are out there to cause divide and discourse.

    June 1, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  4. mabel floyd

    i miss the like button that i could agree with the comment.
    tony perkiins is a dufuss–he is a control freak–no one can possibly believe the drivel spouted by the right wing evangelicals. even they do not believe it. all those who have been railing against adultery and get caught with their pants down–with females as well as males. the only thing that protects sane and ethical people is the separation of church and state–that is why these crafty ones fight against it so desperately. as for the gay "question" that is just another people that the evangelicals can get emotional weak people to hate and fear so they can enlarge the crowd they control. like another poster ssid–"be afraid." if they win the war against the gays it will not be over. they will just pick another group to hate.

    June 1, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  5. Jason Woods

    When you join the military, you do give up certain rights. This isn't arguable. It's fact. However, I'd wager that they don't make women disavow that they are women, or make all left handed persons perform things right handed for fear of being dismissed from the military.

    What you're saying is a right they give up willingly for serving in the military, I say is a right that no other human should ask another to give up. Themselves. While they may willingly give up the right to speak out about the Commander-in-Chief or go wherever whenever they please, the right to simply state who you are as a person and serve the nation you love proudly isn't something that should be forced on anyone. The only way I'd support something like DADT is if it is proven empirically that knowing a fellow soldier is gay, somehow reduces the effectiveness of the armed forces or compromises their mission objectives.

    June 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  6. Mike in Texas

    So Charles, after reading the SPLC list of characteristics of a hate group, did you find anything that supports your imaginative but mostly whiney claims about various labels?

    June 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  7. Banks David n. brownwood texas


    June 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  8. John

    Derrick, Subscribing to a religious doctrine is a choice.... one is not born a christian, muslim, buddhist, athiest, agnostic, hindu, jew, wiccan, anishinabe etc. Perhaps religion is unnatural, as there is no biological purpose for it.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • Derrik

      Your point? Never did I say it was not a choice. Sounds like you are trying a childish this for that type argument. Which usually leads to nowhere. My statement on it being unnatural is in response to people being born that way. If nature was not designed in anyway to reflect it, then how can it be that they are born that way.

      June 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • MannaTi

      And I submit that we are reflected in nature by the simple fact that we are here. You said yourself that we,gays, cannot reproduce, and yet here we are. Time and time again, generation after generation, thru out history we have been represented. Inspite of all your clever arguments and religious doctrine, and opression thru the ages we continue to re-occur in every generation. I suggest that as bright as you think yourself to be, that you dont know everything, and that you consider that you can be wrong about this. That we are in fact a natural re occuring force of nature, the truth of which has simply been kept from you.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  9. richard

    Why do I need to know if I do not know you and did not ask? DADT is a policy concieved by an Administration trying to wiggle out of a campaign promise. I do no know you, care about you or your habits, and if you do not want my opinion keep your private life out of my face. I say that to both sides. I know I work with them. i do not know them. I do not need to know their life stories etc. Respect goes both ways.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  10. Mark

    We have the greatest military in the world so why wouldn't we take into account what military experts say on this issue?

    As a Christian, I believe it's pretty easy to love the sinner even if you hate the sin so I personally don't have any issues with the repeal. But I've never served in our armed forces.

    I run a small business and if some left wing or right wing group showed up at my door and told me who I had to hire or fire, I'd politely show them the door.

    So I don't think it's my decision to make. It seems like a dangerous course to let activists on either side drive this decision.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • Derrik

      agreed Mark. If the DOD feels that there will be no harm in a repeal. So be it. But to push it because political propaganda, seems dangerous.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
    • Larry

      Excellent point!

      June 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  11. Scott

    I hope all you folks who are against letting gays serve openly are saving these emails threads to look at in a decade or two. Cause I strongly suspect you will regret the opinions you defend now.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  12. Derrik

    Mr. Peach,
    You do give up rights when you join the military. One of them is to openly speak about the President in a negative light, even if you disagree with it. There is a certain about of liberties that servicemen and women give up to serve. Something it seems, you know nothing about.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
    • MrPeach


      I'll have to ask my two daughters in the military if that's true, and I'll get back to you.

      Peach out

      June 7, 2010 at 3:43 am |
  13. Kristi

    OK, let's get practical here. Have you thought about the logistics of DADT being repealed? The Navy is JUST NOW starting to allow women on subs, because there weren't adequate quarters...and I'm sure for the tension that will most undoubtedly follow in that environment. Kellie suggested this is not a problem (in context of showering), but it is a problem for the very reason the military segregates M/F sleeping arrangements. Whether someone IS attracted to you doesn't matter - it matters that someone COULD be. Ignorance is bliss - don't tell me & make me more uncomfortable by wondering "what if..." And don't create another housing problem for the military that is already stretched. I don't believe at all that someone should be kicked out for their lifestyle (and that includes ALL lifestyles), unless it infringes on the morale of the entire group. People in the military don't need to be distracted with such issues.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • Derrik

      Thank you Kristi. Take religion out of the discussion and there are some concerns that need to be addressed for sure.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • MannaTi

      Same arguments were made over desegregation AND letting women serve. Change is always difficult but we got thru it. We'll survive this as well. You'll find there's room for all of us.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
    • D

      MannaTi, the same arguments were NOT made against desegregation and women. That is logic based on an entirely different problem, and ridiculous.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
    • D

      Kristi, those are very valid arguments – my husband served 20 years and during deployment to Iraq let me know the communal living situations – it IS a problem. Until and unless the military can GUARANTEE entirely separate quarters for EVERY person it is patently unfair to require someone to room with/shower with/etc someone who is essentially of the opposite gender.

      June 1, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  14. pinkdot84

    @ SHAIARRA .... I have been reading your posts and absolutely none of them make sense. I do not know what point you are trying to make. I genuinely have not been able to tell if you are for DADT or against DADT.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  15. Vanessa

    It's about time. It is incredibly hypocritical for people to ask their fellow Americans to give their life to protect our freedoms but add "could ya just hide who you are while you are doing it? Thanks."

    June 1, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • nwatcher

      ...didn't ask...they volunteered...should have read the fine print before signing up.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  16. prankster

    Like Bill Hicks said anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military should be allowed into the military!

    June 1, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  17. tradewinds

    It never fails. CNN always prints an article on religion. I think they love the comments people send in. Reading all the comments on religion is always a hoot! I am an atheist and I say it's about time our government grew up. Don't ask don't tell was one of the more stupid government regulations. Men are men and all men are created equal. Same goes for women. To serve our country is what heroes are made of. What they do in their private lives is nobodies business but their own.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Derrik

      DADT was not a religious decision. It was a decision based men serving with men. If you don't understand that, you might want to read up. Now, should men be able to get past serving with gays, yes, but is it a band aid that needs to be ripped off? I think not. I think the decision needs to be thought out and not mandated and proceed forward like everything will go smoothly.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
    • MannaTi

      DADT may not have been a religious BASED decision but that didnt keep the same religious political forces from waying in on it just as they are doing now. I"ve read all your arguments, and you dont convince. All your arguments have all been heard before. People afraid of change,trying to maintain the status quo.

      June 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  18. John

    Funny that he doesn't seem to have a problem with soldiers killing people. That violates one of his Ten Commandments. I don't recall reading "Thou shalt not play games of rub and tug with thy barracks-mates" in my bible.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • nwatcher

      ...read the whole thing, it's in there... and the other 900 people who say it is not...you need to read it as well. Of course, if you don't believe the Bible, why are you all spending so much time arguing about it? Rule #1 of any debate: If you don't agree on a premise, you cannot have a logical, meaningful debate. Move on.

      June 1, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  19. Dave

    I would share my thoughts but that has me banned on most of CNN. I think it really comes down to do we believe in equality. I think they should be able to serve with pride. Gay people can bleed and die for their country too.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  20. MrPeach

    Oh the irony, Charles accusing someone else of strawmanning. My head, it aplodes.

    June 1, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.