Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and abortion at U.S. military bases…
One little-reported aspect of the political wrangling around attempts to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans gays from serving openly in the U.S. military was how the religious right tied it to another hot-button cultural issue: abortion.
This would certainly have caught the attention of socially conservative Republicans who were instrumental in defeating a measure aimed at its repeal in the U.S. Senate on Thursday night.
Many if not most conservative U.S. evangelicals were already strongly opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military — a point underscored by a Pentagon study unveiled at the end of November that found that military chaplains were strongly opposed to ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
(Photo: A Code Pink protester supports the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at Senate Arms Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s report on the policy in Washington December 2, 2010/Kevin Lamarque)
That study noted that a large number of the military’s 3,000 chaplains — many of whom are evangelical – believe that “homosexuality is a sin and an abomination.” Evangelicals are also the staunchest supporters of the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and much of the military’s fighting ranks are almost certainly drawn from families that are conservative, patriotic and often religious.
In interviews I’ve had with people such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC) — an influential conservative lobby that is strongly evangelical — a related theme has been evangelical concerns about how repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” could impact the morale of stressed soldiers in the war zones.
This has been a constant theme on conservative Christian radio talk shows and blogs that reach a key base for the Republican Party.
You throw abortion into this potent cultural landmine and you are bound to have fireworks.
And fireworks there were, at least in some quarters. The FRC said the Defense Authorization bill considered by the Senate on Thursday “would overturn existing law on homosexuality in the military and also would turn U.S. military hospitals into abortion clinics worldwide.” Americans United For Life said the Defense Authorization bill would have also provided tax-payer funding for abortion on military bases. Its CEO Charmaine Yoest said after the vote that: “We applaud the outstanding leaders in the Senate who led the fight to win today’s key vote rejecting taxpayer-funded abortion in the military.”
Liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union disputed this, insisting instead that it would have overturned a ban on privately-funded abortions on military bases.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. Allegations that tax-payer-funded abortions were concealed in the healthcare overhaul almost derailed U.S. President Barack Obama’s signature domestic issue.
It’s not entirely clear, at least to me, that the legislation would have channeled tax-payer dollars to fund abortions at military bases or not. But what is crystal clear is that such culture-war issues remain an explosive part of the U.S. political landscape.
Watch out for them in the 2012 White House race.