Coming out of the military closet is good for morale

`They're afraid that the gays will have sex. Of course they will. Better get used to it'
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ANYONE IN their right mind could have seen this one coming. The European Court of Human Rights was bound to come to the conclusion that the British ban on gay people serving in the military was a breach of human rights. Of course it is a breach of human rights to declare that an entire section of the population, not criminalised in any other way, may not serve their country as they wish. Anyone who thought about it for 10 seconds would come to the same conclusion.

The remarkable thing is that, even though they've had plenty of time in the five years since the case began its long progress through the courts, opponents of the idea haven't been able to come up with any better arguments, or, indeed, any arguments at all. All they had to say was, basically, "We hate poofs. We don't want them." And you were left wondering whether any of them had ever heard of Kitchener.

People at the Ministry of Defence were heard mouthing like goldfish that to have gay people in the military was bad for morale, and that they would be vulnerable to blackmail by foreign intelligence.

"Morale" is one of those deplorable weasel words that means whatever the speaker wants it to mean; on the whole, anything that the speaker dislikes may be said to be "bad for morale". Getting drunk and raping local girls is not, on the whole, bad for morale; but, until a few years ago, letting black people into the Guards definitely was. So I think we can ignore that one.

If they mean "We're afraid that the gays will have sex," the answer is obviously: "Of course they will. Better get used to it." So long, that is, as they don't do it on the parade ground and frighten the horses, and so long as sex doesn't become a means of preferment; and there are ways of regulating that.

It is amazing to see the blackmail issue still being wheeled out. So let's say it one more time. People are blackmailed because they have a secret. They have a secret because a part of their behaviour is forbidden. If their behaviour is permitted, do you seriously suppose that people will prefer to live their lives in secrecy? If people are allowed to live their lives in the open, what security risk do they represent?

I can see that, at the moment, the military has organised things so as to make blackmail by foreign intelligence agencies very easy indeed. Why they think legalising homosexuality in the armed forces will make it easier beats me. I mean, what success do you suppose a blackmailer would get out of Chris Smith?

If the head of the KGB rang my doorbell and said "Give us a hundred quid or we'll tell The Independent that you're a poof," I hope I would have the good manners to keep a straight face, but do not otherwise think I would be able to take the demand very seriously. The only tactic is to say, "Yes. So what?" Other people have learnt this, in other areas of life; to say "Yes, I'm black. Yes, I'm a Jew. But no, I am not remotely ashamed of what I am."

I don't know when the condition of homosexuality became illegal in the armed forces. Sexual acts were always forbidden, but a person's nature was not something of which military law took cognizance.

Heterosexual sex in the armed forces, after all, is controlled between serving personnel; otherwise, it is acceptable. If a soldier has a male partner who is not a member of the armed forces, there is obviously nothing wrong with that; if his partner is in the armed forces, then it's probably right that the forces be aware of the relationship. Be aware, but then know when to step back and respect privacy.

The right to defend yourself as a nation is not a trivial right, and the bodies entrusted with that duty are not unimportant or frivolous in their purpose. By behaving as if they were a colossal, snobbish club, the armed forces are, however, making themselves seem so. It is trivial and frivolous to say that they're not going to have people whom they don't much like, whether the potential recruits are homosexual or black, and then hide behind the all-purpose excuse that "it would damage morale".

The running of the armed forces as a club means that the cult of "the right sort of chap" is everywhere, and not to know what that means automatically disqualifies you. It means, on the whole, not being from a racial minority, and having to serve at a level appropriate not to your abilities, but rather to your social class. I've met some quite senior ex-officers in my time whose vowels were impeccable, but who could barely tie their own shoelaces. It means, on the whole, not being homosexual or left wing.

Yesterday, all of that began to change, and the Army ought to be ashamed of itself for having needed to be told to change.