Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Top general calls gays 'immoral'


Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace. Photo: Lisa D. Luse
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The country's top military general called gays "immoral" in a newspaper interview Monday and strongly defended the homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces.

"I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way," said Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The statement would not be considered unusual if it were coming from a conservative member of the clergy. But it took on an entirely different meaning when uttered by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in uniform, speaking with editors and reporters at the Chicago Tribune .

"Saying that gays should serve openly in the military, to me, says that we, by policy, would be condoning what I believe is immoral activity," Pace said during the March 12 interview, during which he likened homosexual acts to a member of the armed forces conducting an adulterous affair with the spouse of another service member.

He supports allowing closeted gays to serve under the DADT policy. But if the military learns of "immoral acts," it has a responsibility to prosecute.

Gay rights groups and political leaders immediately and forcefully denounced Pace's comments and demanded an apology.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Tuesday that she was more interested in statements in a New York Times op-ed piece in January by retired General John M. Shalikashvili that said a change in the policy "should be carefully considered."

"I think the military should carefully consider changing the policy," Pelosi said. "We need the most talented people, we need the language skills, we need patriotic Americans who exist across the board in our population. We don't need moral judgment from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs."

Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) told ABC News that he "strongly" disagrees with Pace that homosexuality is immoral.

By Tuesday morning, Pace had not backed down from his comments but did say that he should have focused more on his support for the policy and less on his personal views, according to a report by ABC News.

A 2005 government audit showed that nearly 10,000 troops have been discharged because of DADT. Of those discharged, more than 322 were linguists, including 54 Arabic specialists, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office.

What was perhaps most amazing was the fact that all of Pace's argument in support of DADT centered on "immorality;" there was not a word about unit cohesion or other rationalizations the Pentagon typically has used to justify excluding gays from the military.

It seemed surprising that Pace would discuss morality when he was at the top of the chain of command when the military tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and wounded veterans were given substandard care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

There are, however, some real legal implications behind what Pace said. The Supreme Court traditionally has deferred to military judgment on matters unique to the service and military readiness. But Pace did not justify DADT in those terms, rather he did so solely on the basis of his personal sense of morality.

The court has made clear, most recently in the 2003 Lawrence decision striking down state sodomy laws, that moral disapproval "is not sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice."

This is not the first time that Pace has spoken disparagingly of gays. In December 2005 he was a Wharton Leadership Lecture speaker at the prestigious business school in Philadelphia.

Then-student Pedro Perez wrote in the Wharton Journal that Pace said, "The U.S. military mission fundamentally rests on the trust, confidence, and cooperation amongst its members. And the homosexual lifestyle does not comport with that kind of trust and confidence and therefore is not supported by the U.S. military."

"Imagine the furor that would have erupted had he said the same thing about women, an ethnic minority, or a religious group," Perez wrote. "Seeing his comments in this light makes it clear just how prejudiced and hateful they are."


Officials at the national organization fighting for repeal of DADT were blindsided by Pace's statements.

"General Pace's comments are outrageous, insensitive, and disrespectful to the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops now serving in our armed forces," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

"As a Marine and a military leader, General Pace knows that prejudice should not dictate policy," Osburn added. "It is inappropriate for the chairman to condemn those who serve our country because of his personal bias. He should immediately apologize for his remarks."

Osburn called on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to "immediately condemn Pace's remarks. Their apologies should be swift and sincere."

Gates told the Pentagon channel that while "personal opinion doesn't have a place here," there is the DADT policy. "And it's my responsibility to execute that policy as effectively as we can. As long as the law is what it is, that's what we'll do."

A retired gay soldier also spoke out against Pace.

"Bigotry should not be a rational basis for discrimination. This kind of prejudice is going to continue to have a direct impact on our national security as we allow qualified gay men and women to lose their jobs for no good reason. This policy – and General Pace's bigotry – is outdated, unnecessary, and counter to the same American values our soldiers are giving their lives for each and every day," said retired Marine Sergeant Eric Alva in a statement released by the Human Rights Campaign.

Alva was perhaps the first soldier to be seriously wounded in the invasion of Iraq, losing his right leg when he stepped on a landmine. He subsequently came out at a Capitol Hill news conference last month and said that most of his fellow soldiers knew that he was gay and it did not matter to them.

"If you want to talk about morality, the explosion of moral waivers the military is granting to fill its [recruitment] shortfalls is a far greater concern than the service of gays who are ready, willing, and able to fight," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which studies DADT. The Pentagon has loosened its regulation with regard to academic proficiency and criminal records for recruits.

Another expert on DADT said Pace's statement has changed the debate over the issue.

"That statement more or less ended the debate over unit cohesion," said Nathaniel Frank, an analyst at the Palm Center. "There is really no basis for excluding an entire group of people simply because some of the military has a moral problem with those people. If it doesn't translate into military impairment, they'll probably need to just grin and bear it. No one ever said that, when you serve your country, you're entitled to choose everyone you serve with."

Patrick Sammon, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said that Pace "has allowed his personal views to get in the way of his duty to his country."

Jo Wyrick, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, called on President Bush to condemn Pace's remarks. She said DADT is "not only immoral, but it creates a threat to our national security by dismissing qualified personnel for political reasons when they are desperately needed to combat the war on terrorism. It was the wrong policy to enact in 1993, and it is the wrong policy to pursue today."

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