President Barack Obama officially repealed the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy this morning, right after Whidbey Island's Col.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 retired colonel, subject of the Glenn Close biopic Serving in Silence, predicts the debate may ultimately center on 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 the same kind of housing concessions for married women and it did for married men.
The military will also have to consider a host of little changes now that "don't ask don't tell" is a thing of the past, Cammermeyer says. What housing arrangements will it make for gays in domestic partnerships, for instance?
It's worth noting, though, that Cammermeyer's own experience suggests that these changes will provoke less controversy than "don't ask don't tell" supporters like Sen. John McCain have warned about. Cammermeyer returned to the military in 1994 despite the passage of "don't ask don't tell" shortly before. "My unit gave me a standing ovation to welcome me back," she recalls. See SW's own celebration of gays and lesbians in the military above.