This week’s episode of The Newsroom featured a segment where a crowd of Republicans attending a GOP debate booed an American serviceman calling in from Iraq to ask the candidates their intentions regarding gays – like him – in the military.
Sorkin’s protagonist, Will McAvoy, reporting on this had some choice words for those people. It was a pleasure to listen to, as is all of Sorkin’s dialog, and it was morally correct as far as it went, but it skirted an important issue. What I would have liked to hear a candidate answer goes something like this:
Captain Hill, let me start by saying that your service to our country, to us, has earned you our respect and our gratitude. Those voices raised in derision just now should have been cheering you. Let them take note of that, reflect, and mend their ways, and let me start that process off by saying Thank You. You deserve that at the very least.
You also deserve an answer to your question, but before I relate to that I’d like to take a step back.
Among the citizens of the United States are many who believe that homosexuality is wrong. Many of them believe so as a tenet of their religion. These religious beliefs may be deeply held, and throughout history many have been martyred, have suffered torments that would make the bravest among us blanch, rather than repudiate those beliefs. These people are heroes of our culture. Are we to tell them that their suffering was for nothing? That we have somehow established that their beliefs are wrong? That we owe them nothing for their shining example?
I don’t see how we can and I don’t think that we should. But the founders of our system of government, that system that you are risking everything to preserve, decided that suffering and sacrifice don’t confer any special rights in the public sphere. Religious figures are the same as all other citizens, regardless of any spiritual contributions.
The same is true of all our citizens, including those who serve in the military. So while we are all in your debt, and should all be moved by the plight of soldiers who are frustrated in their desire to be openly gay in the military, those facts are not enough to decide the matter.
To answer your question: I haven’t yet formed a position on gays in the military. It’s a serious question, not least because of the strong feelings of men and women like yourself and of those citizens with equally strong feelings leading them to different conclusions. I would see it as my duty, if elected, to have that conversation with the men and women in service, with our military leaders, with scholars of our legal system and our public life, and with people who represent the spectrum of American beliefs.
I can’t guarantee you’ll get the answer you want, or the one you deserve. I can only undertake to do my best and to be guided by, among other things, my respect for and gratitude to you.