“Sex Without Consequences” in the U.S. Military

Posted on February 7th, 2010 by Katherine Franke

All eyes were on the Senate hearings this week on repeal of the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, meaning that before long members of the U.S. military will be permitted to do two things without negative consDADT_Postcardequences for the first time in U.S. history: i) say out loud “I am gay or lesbian,” and ii) have sex with another person of the same sex.

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been a top priority of the lgbt community since its adoption early in the Clinton Administration, and on one level of course it should be. It stands as one of the most stark examples of state-sponsored discrimination against lesbian and gay people, and is justified by and offers the opportunity for the expression of the crudest stereotypes and slurs about gays and lesbians.

Yet its demise comes with no small measure of discomfort on the part of more progressive members of the community in so far as this civil rights issue marries lgbt politics with the values of militarization, state violence, and enormous human suffering. (My dis-ease with the patriotization of lgbt politics in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” context shares an etiology with my reluctance to throw myself full bore into the marriage equality thing.)

emergency Plan BInterestingly, the Senate’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hearings took place in the same week that the DoD adopted the findings of its Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee which had recommended that levonorgestrel, also known as the “morning after pill,” be made available in DoD dispensaries. (Levonorgestrel is a synthetic progesterone, commonly labeled “Next Choice” or “Plan B,” that can work as a contraceptive if taken within 3 days after unprotected intercourse. Levonorgestrel can be obtained over the counter for women over 17 years old, but women serving in the U.S. military overseas depend on DoD dispensaries for their drugs.)

This week’s incPlan Blusion of levonorgestrel in the DoD’s “core formularies” reverses a Bush White House decision to reject the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee 2002 recommendation that the drug be made available to female members of the military. Critics such as Laura Ingraham have opposed its availability on the ground that it promotes “sex without consequences.”

This has been a busy month at the Pentagon for the sticky issue of sex and its consequences – both homo and hetero sex. Recall the controversial Army policy floated in December whereby female soldiers serving in northern Iraq could have been court-martial and possibly jailed if they become pregnant (and male soldiers and civilians employed by the Army who impregnated the women might also have been charged with crimes).

Here’s the thing: the military desperately needs bodies to fill out the ranks in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just as Abraham Lincoln famously mused in 1863 that mustering new troops was “like shoveling fleas across a barnyard … you take up a shovel full, but before you can dump them anywhere they are gone,” so too President Obama is facing a similar problem: otherwise qualified people who have joined, or would like to join, the military are “gone” because of the sex they’re having – whether it be homo or hetero.

Yes, let’s celebrate the demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the provision of better reproductive health care for women (and men) in the U.S. military, but let’s do so while well aware of the fact that these “victories” smack of a familiar kind of “interest convergence” as Derrick Bell called it in his famous 1980 Harvard Law Review article.

Woodrow Wilson “used” the enfranchisement of women in the United States in the immediate post World War I period as a means by which to champion the moral superiority of the U.S., and the U.S. military was racially integrated by Harry Truman after World War II for reasons that had as much to do with efforts to distinguish the U.S. from the Soviet Union as the rightness of African American civil rights. So too, as Bell argued, the nation’s schools were desegregated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 not only because the cause was right, but because the U.S. had a cold war-based reason to prove its moral superiority to the Soviets.

So here we are again – the military is becoming a “fairer” place to serve for gay men, lesbians, and heterosexual women not only because the injustice of not doing so is no longer tolerable on its own terms, but because the costs of discrimination have become too high. This is all to say that “sex without consequences” is now in the state’s interest as much as it is in ours.



  1. “Sex Without Consequences” in the U.S. Military http://bit.ly/dke1Dq #lgbt #DADT

  2. Gender & Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » “Sex Without … http://bit.ly/bS50l0

  3. “Sex Without Consequences” in the U.S. Military http://bit.ly/dke1Dq #lgbt #DADT

  4. "Gender ' Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » Sex Without …" http://tinyurl.com/ykuof87 Great Women on Twitter!

  5. Some day, we’ll look back with amazement that we tolerated any form of a communication gap in the military:



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