Regardless of one’s feelings about the war in Iraq, it is important to provide support to the young men and women who put their lives on the line in obedience to their country’s call. One such man that deserves our support is Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, a native of San Antonio who joined the Corps in 1989 when he was only 19 years old.
When the current war in Iraq started, his unit was among the first to be deployed. Alva holds the distinction of being the first U.S. solider wounded in the conflict. On March 21, 2003, while traveling in a convoy to Basra with his battalion, he stepped on a land mine. The explosion broke his right arm and damaged his leg so badly that it had to be amputated. For his valor and sacrifice, Alva was awarded the Purple Heart.
Even those of us who opposed the war from its beginning must honor Alva as a military hero. After his discharge from the Marines, he finished a bachelor’s degree in social work and is presently studying for his masters. Alva now lives in San Antonio with his partner, Darrell.
Oh — did I mention that Alva is gay? But then again, should it matter? After all, in Iraq and other wars, gay blood flowed on the battlefield just like straight blood.
The sacrifice made by gays to protect your freedoms is no more or no less significant than the sacrifice made by straights. Why, then, should it matter if the first solider to be wounded in Iraq is gay or straight? It shouldn’t, but it does — because of the sin of imposing our heterosexual orientation on our gay sisters and brothers.
I know that there are Christians who interpret the Bible as condemning same-gender relationships. I once also held that view; I no longer do. I am a recovering heterosexist. We who are Christians can surely engage in a lively intramural debate over this issue. However, such religious debates do not belong in the realm of public policy in a pluralistic society, especially if the religious view of the few but powerful is forced upon the many who disagree.
Alva served his country with distinction and paid a high price. Do those who have not paid such a price — especially those who haven’t served in combat — have a right to force their religious views on those who have? Many have bumper stickers on their cars that say “Support the Troops.” Do you really want to support the troops? Then support their wounded. Support Alva and the approximately 65,000 gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (according to a recent Urban Institute report) currently serving the United States in uniform. Write to your members of Congress and demand that the ban on gays openly serving in our military be repealed.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy currently in place forces gay and lesbian soldiers to bear false witness against themselves. To risk their lives in the service of their country, they must lie about who they are and how God created them.
We Christians should be against all forms of deception, and yet, in an attempt to impose mandatory heterosexuality, we force many of our men and women in uniform to deceive their fellow soldiers. Besides the immorality of forcing our troops to lie, the present policy is placing them and our nation in greater peril. Since the policy was enacted in 1993, almost 800 specialists with critical skills needed for the defense of the homeland have been fired, of whom 323 are linguists — 55 of them Arabic experts. Think of the backlog of thousands of documents that cannot be translated — documents that, conceivably, could save American lives — because we are more concerned with whom a soldier loves than we are with his or her ability to do their job.
Honesty in the military is something most Americans want. A 2008 Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 75 percent of Americans in favor of open service by gays in our military. Among those who are actually fighting in the war, three out of four soldiers (according to a 2006 study conducted by Zogby International and the Michael D. Palm Center) are comfortable with the idea. Every published Pentagon study on the issue since 1993 has concluded that no special restrictions on gay personnel should exist.
Besides, gays already serve openly in the FBI, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Secret Service. Why not the military? Because a small but politically powerful group is forcing their religious beliefs on all Americans. If they feel that homosexuality is wrong, then by all means, they have the right and freedom not to engage in homosexuality. But what is wrong — what is immoral — is for them to force their religious views upon a pluralistic society that does not share them.
Next time you think about gays in the military, think about Eric Alva. Next time you want to want to deny gays and lesbians their civil rights, think of price he paid for your rights and freedoms. Do the right thing — repeal discrimination, repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
First Published in Baptist News Global