Ms. J.E. McNeil, is a Quaker lawyer the executive director of the Center on Conscience & War and is committed to helping anyone with valid legal grounds get out of the military. But when the House of Representatives voted May 27 to allow the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, paving the way for gay men and lesbians in the military to be open about their sexual orientation, Ms. McNeil got a hot-line call that raised a new issue: the caller said he considered homosexuality an abomination and wanted to be a conscientious objector because he could not serve in the military alongside gay soldiers.
“I told him I wasn’t trying to criticize, but he was already serving with gays, since there’s lots of gays in the military now.. “He said, ‘Yes, but now if they come out, they can be forced out. But if homosexuality is actually allowed, I will be housed with somebody who’s sexually attracted to me.’
The next day, while Ms. McNeil was thinking through the legal ramifications, the center got an e-mail message raising the same issue. “This is just the beginning,” Ms. McNeil said. “When the other shoe drops and the policy actually ends, I think we’re going to get a lot of these.”
In the “don’t ask, don’t tell” cases, Ms. McNeil concluded that there was no legal basis for a conscientious objector claim. The legal standard, she said, is that the person must be conscientiously opposed to participating in war in any form, based on a sincerely held religious, moral or ethical belief. And the person must have had a change of heart since joining the military, when the person signed a form saying he or she was not a conscientious objector and did not intend to become one. “In the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation, they’re not opposed to participating in war, they’re opposed to who they’re participating with,” Ms. McNeil said.
At the Bay Area G.I. Rights Network, Bob Jolly has had three inquiries, one from a staff sergeant on behalf of one of his men. “The soldier is a very devoted Christian who believes that practicing homosexuality is a sin,” the staff sergeant wrote. “With changes in the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy, he is concerned that he will have to bunk and shower with homosexuals. He is concerned to the point that he is asking about ways to get out of the Army.”
In my opinion it’s too bad bigotry isn’t a punishable or dischargeable offense.