The strangest argument yet against gays in the military

Ted Kennedy's new memoir reveals an unusual fear from the days when "don't ask, don't tell" came to pass

Published September 14, 2009 7:35PM (EDT)

The administration still hasn't said when it plans to end the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, a policy that has forced more than 12,500 people out of service since 1993. The arguments against the ban are pretty plain: it may be hurting the military's readiness; it's forced key translators to leave the military; it's unfair; it's not even supported by the public.

But now thanks to Ted Kennedy's new memoir, published today and excerpted in Politico, one of the strangest arguments in favor of the ban has come to light. In the book, Kennedy relates the tale of an Oval Office meeting early in the Clinton administration with all the Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Kennedy writes:

The last senator to speak was Robert Byrd, and he came up with a new one on all of us... He informed us, with many ornate flourishes, that there had been a terrible problem in ancient Rome with young military boys turned into sex slaves. I don't remember the exact details, but I think the story involved Tiberius Julius Caesar being captured and abused and used as a sex slave. He escaped and then years later he sought vengeance and killed his captors.

Clinton, Kennedy said, replied that the Ten Commandments don't mention homosexuality at all, but in the end, Congress wound up opposing his proposal to allow gays and lesbians to serve, leading to the "don't ask, don't tell" plan -- which started out as a compromise. Needless to say, no one seems likely to use that particular Rome-related argument if President Obama decides to lift the ban. But it certainly helps underscore the bizarre logic behind a policy that even Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time it was put in place, now thinks should be revisited. The Senate will hold hearings on the policy this fall.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

MORE FROM Mike Madden

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton Ted Kennedy U.s. Senate War Room