Academy experts discuss effects of DADT repeal
A panel comprising the Air Force Academy's senior chaplain, the chief diversity officer, an attorney with the judge advocate office and a professor in the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department spoke about the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and its effects on the Air Force Academy in early October. (U.S. Air Force image/Don Branum)
Posted 10/25/2011 Updated 10/25/2011
by Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs
10/25/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- A panel of experts at the Air Force Academy held a lunchtime question-and-answer session in early October to discuss the ramifications of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" for the Academy and the greater Air Force.
On the panel were Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Adis Vila, Academy Chaplain (Col.) Robert Bruno, judge advocate officer Lt. Col. Karen Rhone and Col. Gary Packard, who led the team that drafted the Defense Department's plan to implement the repeal of DADT.
The discussion lasted for more than an hour and covered a wide swath of topics, ranging from who could be married at the Cadet Chapel and who could conduct the ceremony to the courses of action available to those who had a deep-seated moral objection to serving alongside gays or lesbians.
Packard, a permanent professor in the Academy's Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department, likened DADT repeal to the year-2000 event that many had predicted would cause widespread computer glitches.
"We all went to bed on Dec. 31, 1999, and we all woke up on Jan. 1, and the world didn't fall apart," Packard said. "Nothing catastrophic happened. There were some minor blips ... but for the most part, life went on as normal."
Approximately 70 people worked on studying both the effects of the repeal and how to implement the repeal once it became law, Packard said. The study solicited input from service members and their spouses and received more than 200,000 responses, but it didn't stop there.
"We took data from the history of (race and gender) integration," he said. "We looked at other militaries. We looked at the CIA, fire departments, police departments. We took our own data set and analyzed it independently. Rand (Corporation) did a similar thing, and we all triangulated to the same conclusion: that this is not going to be an issue," he said.
Observation at the Academy has so far met the commission's predictions. Two cadets who spoke with local TV station KRDO on the day the repeal took effect said they didn't expect repeal to be an issue.
"The best quote I've heard so far is, 'Well, some people's Facebook status changed, but that was about it,'" Packard said.
Packard presented six points from the report to help frame the discussion:
- Leadership matters most.
- Policies must be neutral in regard to sexual orientation.
- Federal law still prohibits the DOD from granting marriage benefits to same-sex partners.
- Sexual orientation is a personal and private matter and need not be shared.
- Serving alongside openly gay service members does not force people to change their beliefs.
- Everyone must treat one another with respect.
"This is not designed to brainwash or push you into a belief system that maybe you're not ... comfortable with, but we have to be respectful as we talk about this issue," Packard said. The tone remained respectful, even as the questions from the audience hit hot-button topics.
Questions in the first half of the discussion revolved around same-sex marriage. Military bases' chapels may be made available for same-sex wedding ceremonies, according to a memorandum written by DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson. While the federal Defense of Marriage Act strictly defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, the act's scope does not cover religious ceremonies, Packard explained.
"There's a difference between ... recognizing a marriage for benefit reasons versus somebody's right to use a chapel for their own personal reasons," he said. "I could go in and have a commitment ceremony with somebody or have any kind of ceremony in that space according to my religious freedom rights. However, for the government to take the next step and recognize the marriage for purposes of benefits ... that would fall under DOMA."
Because of DOMA and Colorado state law, the Cadet Chapel's doors probably will not open to same-sex marriages anytime soon. However, couples may hold a commitment ceremony if either of the individuals meets the eligibility criteria and the ceremony is religious in nature, Bruno said. USAFA Instruction 52-101, "Use of the USAFA Cadet Chapel," outlines who may hold private religious services.
In addition, not all chaplains may be able to offer their services for same-sex ceremonies, Bruno said. The arbiter of that decision lies with chaplains' endorsing agencies, which can pull the endorsement of any chaplain who acts against their theology or polity, resulting in removal of that chaplain from the chaplain corps.
"If I or any other Catholic priest in the chaplain corps is asked (to perform a same-sex marriage), we're going to have to say, 'No, we can't do that,'" Bruno said. "Some chaplains' endorsing agencies allow them to conduct same-sex marriages; for them, there would be no issue."
In short, even if a chaplain wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, the endorsing agency might forbid it and might have the chaplain removed from the military if he conducts it against that endorsing agency's policy.
RESPECT, EQUAL TREATMENT
The discussion segued from whether chaplains could refuse to marry same-sex couples to whether supervisors and commanders had a "right of refusal": in other words, whether they could refuse to invite their employees' same-sex partners to official functions. Rhone said that in addition to religious considerations, legal issues may arise because of the repeal.
"Every military member is subject to a standard of conduct, and they can't treat someone differently because of sexual orientation," she said. "That's the whole bottom line of dignity and respect."
Packard invoked an example: "Say I'm going to have a department function at my house, but I don't believe I should have a same-sex couple there. So I tell people, 'You can come, but you can't bring your same-sex partner, because that would offend somebody.' I'll go back to that sexual orientation-neutral point: if I'm going to have a policy, it has to be equal for everybody."
Excluding same-sex partners would not meet the neutrality requirement, he added.
While individuals may use their chain of command or the Inspector General's office to seek redress of grievances, equal opportunity offices cannot intervene because marital status is not a protected class under EO regulations, Packard said.
"Let's say you're a single service member, and because you're a single service member, every time there's a holiday or a three-day weekend, you find yourself on duty. You believe that's being done because you're single and everyone else has a family," he said. "If you went to the EO office, they would say, 'That's not in our purview' ... and they would send you back to the chain of command or IG."
"The burden of proof, though ... is on the individual making the complaint, and (incidents) can be very subtle," one person in the audience pointed out.
Packard seemed to acknowledge that some discrimination could take place.
"We are not a perfect society," he said. However, he added that the imperfections made it that much more important for leaders at every level to address the institutional climate from a basis of respect toward others.
"That gets down to the idea of why respect is so important, why we have a chief diversity officer to talk about the power of inclusiveness and how we can become more inclusive and more accepting of this diverse force that we work with," he said.
Diversity includes both homosexual and bisexual servicemembers and those whose beliefs hold homosexuality invalid, Vila added.
"If anyone feels that they're being disvalued, then all of us are. So it's very important that ... everybody is valued. That's why we call it inclusion," she said.
BELIEF VS. BEHAVIOR
Believing homosexuality is invalid is one thing; disrespecting others based on those beliefs is another, Vila said.
"It is absolutely essential for anyone who works here to not allow his beliefs to affect his behavior if his behavior would show disrespect for others. We want to stop that. So it's a personal responsibility, isn't it?" she said. "It's a personal responsibility, it's a team responsibility, and ... at the end of the day, it's an institutional responsibility. The military cannot survive if anyone among us ... is not valued for what we bring."
One of the audience members said it appeared the diversity training to date focused on changing beliefs, rather than changing actions.
"You say, 'It's just your actions. We're not trying to get you to give up what you think and what you believe,'" the audience member said. "I think the goal is, 'We want you to change how you think so your thinking can line up with your behavior, (but) we can't address what you're thinking because we can't dictate that.'"
Packard related the answer to a situation he had encountered earlier in his career as a squadron commander.
"I had a flight commander walk into my office one day," Packard said. "He said, 'I've got a problem. I have a male student pilot in the squadron who says he will not fly with the instructor pilot he's been assigned to fly with because she's a woman, and women should not be flying planes in the military.'"
Some of the audience members, including a female Airman in a flight suit, visibly cringed.
Packard continued, "I had a somewhat similar response to it, then I sat back and said, 'What do I do with this information?' Because ... women have equal status in our military organization. For the most part, 90-plus percent of the occupational specialties in the military are open to women. The student pilot had a firm belief that that was not right, so I had a heart-to-heart talk with that student, and I told him, 'Your belief system is one thing, but the way you behave and what you do when you walk through the doors of this squadron is different.'"
If a student pilot had a similar belief about homosexuals in the military today, Packard said he would treat the situation the same way.
"Your belief system, I'm not going to change," he said. "You can ... worship however you want and believe whatever you want. But your behavior, when you walk inside the doors of this institution, has to be subservient based on the laws of our nation. I have to treat the person with respect as a member of my team because the government has said they're a member of the team."
The principle of modifying behavior also applies to less extreme examples, such as off-color jokes, Packard said.
"In 1948, you could make a joke about a person's color and probably get away with it," he said. "Try doing that in today's Air Force, and you ought to be punished severely. There are certain boundaries on humor that we have to put in place because of the impact it has on the morale and discipline of that unit."
Bruno offered the Academy's chaplain corps as an example of working together as part of a "larger whole" despite significant philosophical differences.
"I lead a team here of roughly 50 people. I have theological affinity with six of them, but that doesn't prevent me from forming the team," he said. "We could not do the mission here if we were all white, male and Catholic. We couldn't meet the requirements of providing religious support to all the men and women of this institution.
"What's really at the bottom of it all is respect. When we get to those places where we know we are not going to agree -- whether it's politics, whether it's religion or whatever it is: in the area of respect, we simply agree to disagree agreeably," he continued. "If we're ever going to achieve the mission for which we've signed up ... we have to be able to do that. If you can't, then you need to find a different place to offer your service to God and country."
Defense of Marriage Act: The federal law passed in 1996 that recognizes marriage as solely a union of a man and a woman and a spouse as someone of the opposite gender for the purpose of determining benefits. The law also allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. Read the law at http://1.usa.gov/mRGtZw.
Don't Ask Don't Tell: The 1993 law, repealed Sept. 20, 2011, that prohibited the Defense Department from discharging service members based on their sexual orientation unless they were found to have engaged in homosexual conduct. Typically abbreviated as DADT.
Endorsing Agency: A group recognized by the Department of Defense as representing a particular religion, responsible for attesting to a chaplain's suitability to represent the followers of that religion.
LGBT: An acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. Often used to refer to the community of people who do not identify as heterosexual.
Sexual Orientation Neutral: Refers to the requirement that policies do not specify the genders or sexual orientation of the involved parties. A social or official function that excluded same-sex partners would not be neutral with regard to sexual orientation.
- USAFAI 52-101, "Use of the USAFA Cadet Chapel" (.pdf, 78k)
- DOD Report: "Comprehensive Review of Issues Associated with a Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell" (.pdf, 7.2M)
- DOD Report: "Support Plan for Implementation" (.pdf, 1.9M)
- DOD Directive 1020.02, "Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in the Department of Defense (.pdf, 190k)
- Colorado Constitution, Article II, Section 31, "Marriages - valid or recognized" (.pdf, 10k)