You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight. — Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)


The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the United States is great news for gay couples who are employed by the federal government, particularly those who are serving in the US military. Interestingly, the ban on gays serving in the US military was lifted before the repeal of DOMA, and the effort to lift this ban was supported by what you might think was a most unlikely advocate: none other than Barry Goldwater (1909-1998).  Goldwater was a staunch conservative, an anti-communist politician whose career in federal politics began in 1952 as a Senator for the State of Arizona and presidential candidate for the Republican Party in 1964, continuing until his retirement in 1987. He was forthright and transparent in his thought concerning gay rights in US society and gays serving in the US military and not in the way you may be thinking.  Concerning gays serving in the military, he stated “everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar. They’ll still be serving long after we’re all dead and buried. That should not surprise anyone.” He added:

The conservative movement, to which I subscribe, has as one of its basic tenets the belief that government should stay out of people’s private lives. Government governs best when it governs least – and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone’s version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays. (Lifting ban on gays in military should be conservative cause)

Before becoming a politician, Goldwater served in the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC), seeing action in World War II as a pilot in Ferry Command. He founded the Arizona Air National Guard in 1946, desegregating it two years before President Harry Truman desegregated the whole US military in 1949 with Executive Order 9981. Goldwater retired from the Air Force Reserve Command having attained the rank of Major-General and as Senator served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services from 1985-1987. He was no stranger to the realities of the military environment both in war and peacetime. During the years Goldwater served in the USAF and AFRC persons having homosexual proclivities were deemed unfit for military service and either refused induction into military service or quietly mustered out with either a general, undesirable or dishonorable discharge if found out after having been inducted. The consequences of the three types of discharge varied in degree of severity, but in each, the individual was ineligible for veteran’s benefits and could face discrimination in employment in civilian life.

Homosexuality remained grounds for expulsion from the military in the United States in the years following Goldwater’s service. The Department of Defense issued the following regulation to clarify its stand in 1981:

(DOD Directive 1332.14 (Enlisted Administrative Separations), January 1981)

Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work in close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.

This position was softened in 1993 when Don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) legislation was enacted. The act allowed gay people to serve in the US military, provided they remained closeted, that is they did not disclose their sexual orientation or speak openly about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States military, and provided they were not found out to be homosexual. This softened position was hotly resisted by many high ranking officers in the US military and politicians.  General Norman Schwarzkopf raised this topic, following his retirement from active service, in addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1993 in which he stated “I have experienced the fact that the introduction of an open homosexual into a small unit immediately polarizes that unit and destroys the very bonding that is so important for the unit’s survival in time of war.” (as cited in Gays in the Military) I remember seeing General Schwarzkopf discussing this in a television interview, basically advancing the argument that allowing gay people to serve in the US military alongside heterosexuals would impair the ability of the military to carry out its mission. What immediately struck me upon hearing this is what he is saying is no different than what was said when the US military was integrated in 1949.

In the late 1940s it was widely held in US society that blacks were prone to a variety of behavioural stereotypes such as sexual promiscuity, which led to a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, dishonesty, higher rates of criminality and generally were seen as morally inferior to whites, which made them unfit to serve alongside white servicemen and women as this would undermine the ability of the US military to carry out its duties. These behavioural stereotypes were based on a general prejudice linked to an innate trait: the colour of their skin. Senator Richard B. Russell (1897-1971), a Georgia Democrat and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services from 1951-1961, vehemently opposed the integration of the US military drawing on these stereotypes in arguing:

[T]he mandatory intermingling of the races throughout the services will be a terrific blow to the efficiency and fighting power of the armed services….It is sure to increase the numbers of men who will be disabled through communicable diseases. It will increase the rate of crime committed by servicemen. (quoted in Binkin et al., 1982, p. 26) (as cited in Race and Sexual Orientation)

In a similar vein in more recent history, General Schwarzkopf was quoted as saying “because of the prevailing aversion [read general prejudice] to homosexuals in our society, the Army would suffer in esteem if known homosexuals were allowed to serve.” (as cited in

The concerns raised by Senator Russell and like-minded individuals proved groundless as the US military meets its obligations in the present with men and women of all races and ethnic backgrounds most effectively. Goldwater was frank in stating the obvious on this point in 1993 noting:

Years ago, I was a lieutenant in charge of an all-black unit. Military leaders at the time believed that blacks lacked leadership potential – period. That seems ridiculous now, as it should. Now, each and every man and woman who serves this nation takes orders from a black man – our own Gen. Colin Powell.” (Lifting ban on gays in military should be conservative cause)

Since stating his case for the inclusion of gays in the US military in 1993, Goldwater was proven correct in his view that “the country and the military know that eventually the ban will be lifted,” as Don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) was repealed in 2011. Since then, as was noted above, DOMA was also repealed. What this means is that gay people can serve openly in the US military. Those who are in same-sex marriages will be able to claim full spousal benefits; and the US military will continue to be the highly competent and professional fighting force respected across the world, just as it was before the ban on gay people serving was lifted.

Posted by Geoffrey

3 thoughts on “You don’t have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight. — Barry Goldwater (1909-1998)

  1. Vance Austin Neely

    I especially dislike the Selective Service only targeting males. Even M->F transgender still are required to register; which is screwed up. If the American government is alleviating pressure off of homosexuals, why are men still considered disposable with all of these Feminists pushing for women only power and ending women suffrage; but ignoring the male counterpart altogether?

  2. Vance Austin Neely

    I don’t see why homosexual men would want to serve in the American military in the first place. Homosexuals are considered second class citizens and disposable if male. At least the laws are getting better regarding the issue.


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