Peter W. Fulham, Columnist
Ideology: Democrat | Writing from: The College of the Holy Cross

If there was ever a point in the last year when Congressional Republicans appeared unshakably determined to walk on the wrong side of history, it was last week, during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which bars gays from serving openly in the military.  There were more demonstrations of cheap insinuation and thinly veiled bigotry here than any sane viewer could keep track of, but a few cases stand out, most notably this statement, from Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss:

“Military life is fundamentally different from civilian life in that military society is characterized by its own laws, rules, customs, and traditions, including restrictions on personal behavior that would not be acceptable in civilian society.  Examples include alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art.  If we change this rule of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ what are we going to do with these other issues?”

The answer to that probing question, perhaps, belongs only to Sen. Chambliss.  But if he truly believes that alcoholism and tattoos belong in the same moral underworld as homosexuality, it’s fair to say that he has much more pressing questions to address.

John McCain provided the committee with perhaps its most stunning moment.  In 2006, Sen. McCain explained, “The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we

Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency, Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

ought to consider seriously changing it.”  When that day did come, last week, McCain merely joined in with the Republican chorus determined to keep “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in place.

The question that begged to be asked during this hearing never actually came up, but it was clear that no Republican had a valid answer to it in the first place.  That question is this.  How does being gay affect a soldier’s conduct?  The answer, of course, is that the two have nothing to do with one another, as thousands of gay American soldiers – including the more than 13,000 who have been discharged as a result of this law – have demonstrated already with their brave service.

No Republican senator would say anything flatly anti-gay for the cameras.  This is evidence, perhaps, of how far we’ve come since 1993, when, as Maureen Dowd pointed out in a recent column, Sen. Sam Nunn “famously gave lawmakers a tour of a submarine and its showers to show what close quarters sailors endured, implying that it would be impossible to separate the men from the men if gays were out.”

Instead, they retreated to flimsy platitudes about threats to “unit cohesion,” assertions that have no basis in reality.  No study to date has demonstrated any correlation between unit solidarity and the presence of openly gay service members.  One only needs to look to the armies of our allies – France, Britain, Israel, and Canada – to see that the bigoted rationalizations for continuing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell are rooted in fear rather than reason.

Senate Republicans proved last week, as the Tea Party movement has already shown, that if you adhere to it stubbornly enough, ignorance can indeed shape one’s policy convictions.  The most convincing testimony was, indeed, from Adm. Mike Mullen, who acknowledged that he had served with homosexuals since 1968.  “No matter how I look at this issue,” he said, “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Let’s hope that the President and Congress act quickly to overturn this cruel and archaic law.