The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on a case challenging the legality of the Solomon amendment -- the action by Congress to withdraw federal funding from any college or university that bans military recruiters from its campus.
A number of law schools from around the country had challenged the Solomon amendment on the basis that the schools have a constitutional right to ban military recruiters because of their disagreement with the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy involving gays. Under the policy, anyone who admits to being gay is not permitted to serve in the military.
During my 26 years in Congress, I voted for the Solomon amendment and believe it should be upheld by the Supreme Court.
My record in favor of rights for gays and lesbians was consistent as a member of Congress. I was a co-sponsor of ENDA, the legislation outlawing discrimination against gays in employment and housing, and I voted against the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
So why do I support the Solomon amendment?
First, and foremost, we need the best and brightest minds in the military, particularly in JAG (the legal branch). We need military lawyers who will question guidelines permitting torture of prisoners that are inconsistent with the Geneva Accords or that are likely to embarrass our government.
Also, our military needs cultural as well as ethnic diversity. No one is seriously proposing bringing back the draft, but one of the good things about the military draft was that it served as a great societal leveler. To the extent that any system can, it assured that our military was composed of people from all income levels and all backgrounds.
We need the sons and daughters of the privileged just as we need the sons and daughters of middle income America serving our country. A truly diverse military gives everyone in our country a personal stake in decisions made by our civilian and military leaders.
Additionally, there is a degree of a double standard in the current debate. Where were the law schools at our universities and colleges when the military practiced segregation of the races (something finally ended by President Truman)? Did our law schools ban military recruiters as a matter of principle when our military was segregated? Did they ban recruiters when women could only be nurses or serve in separate outfits like the WACS and the WAVES rather than competing with men in most branches as they do today?
And finally, there is somewhat of an air of unreality surrounding this entire debate. Law School students are adults (most in their mid-twenties or older) and are entitled to hear both sides of an issue.
Schools that disagree with the military’s policy can provide information to their students about the military’s position on gay rights and can urge them not to join the military until the policy is changed. They can post signs on campus, communicate with the students by email or permit peaceful protesters to hand out anti-military literature. Let the students decide for themselves whether the military’s position on gays is sufficient reason not to volunteer.
I personally believe the current military policy on service by gays is unrealistic and wrong-headed, particularly as we have great difficulty meeting recruiting quotas. Many of our NATO allies have a different policy for their own military.
But my personal views are irrelevant when it comes to the decision by a young person as to whether he or she should volunteer for military service.
Major universities and colleges receive millions of dollars in federal research grants. It’s not too much to ask that, as a condition to continuing to receive this assistance from the government, that they permit the military to come on to their campuses and make their case.
No one is forcing our young people to serve, but they should at least have the option of considering military service as a career choice.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is currently a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.