Grethe Cammermeyer: Mission Unaccomplished

Repealing DADT is just a start, says the decorated lesbian colonel.

President Barack Obama officially repealed the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy last Wednesday, right after Whidbey Island's Col. Grethe Cammermeyer led the assembled 400 or so in the Pledge of Allegiance. "It was quite humbling," says the retired Army nurse, speaking by phone from D.C. "For so long, we as gays and lesbians serving in the military never felt that justice and liberty was ours." Still, Cammermeyer, who was discharged for homosexuality in 1989 and later reinstated by court order, suggests the fight is not over. The Uniform Code of Military Justice still considers sodomy to be a form of misconduct, she points out. To change that will require an act of Congress, and an attempt to make that happen may well provoke a debate on another sexually and morally charged subject: adultery. Cammermeyer says prohibitions on both sodomy and adultery are contained in the same chapter of the uniform code. The retired colonel, subject of the Glenn Close biopic Serving in Silence, predicts the debate may ultimately center on an even broader question: "How much of private conduct—as long as it doesn't affect the mission—should come up in the uniform code?" While any Congressional debate around sex is sure to discomfort some people and entertain others, the broader review seems way overdue. As Cammermeyer recalls, the military has the ability to adapt to changing mores. When she signed up, in 1961, only single women were allowed to serve. A few years later, the military decreed that a wedding gown would not get a female soldier booted out. And it made a host of big and small changes, like making similar housing concessions for married women and for married men. The military will also have to consider a host of little changes now that DADT is a thing of the past, Cammermeyer says—for instance, what housing arrangements will be made for gays in domestic partnerships. It's worth noting, however, that Cammermeyer's own experience suggests that these changes will provoke less controversy than DADT supporters like Sen. John McCain have warned about. Cammermeyer returned to the military in 1994 despite the passage of DADT shortly before. "My unit gave me a standing ovation to welcome me back," she recalls.

 
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