Janet E. Halley explains how the military's new anti-gay policy is fundamentally misdescribed by its common nickname, “Don't Ask/Don't Tell.” This ubiquitous phrase, she points out, implies that it discharges servicemembers not for who they are, but for what they do. It insinuates that, as long as military personnel keep quiet about their homosexual orientation and desist from “homosexual conduct,” no one will try to pry them out of their closets and all will be well.
Not so, reveals Halley. In order to work through the steps by which the new law was ultimately drafted, she opens with a close reading of the 1986 Supreme Court sodomy case which served as the legal and rhetorical model for the policy revisions made in 1993. Halley also describes how the Clinton administration’s attempts to offer Congress an opportunity to regulate conduct—and not status—were flatly rejected and not included in the final statute. Using cultural and critical theory seldom applied to explain the law, Halley argues that, far from providing privacy and an assurance that servicemembers' careers will be ruined only if they engage in illegal conduct, the rule activates a culture of minute surveillance in which every member must strictly avoid using any gesture in an ever-evolving lexicon of “conduct that manifests a propensity.” In other words, not only homosexuals but all
military personnel are placed in danger by the new policy. After challenging previous pro-gay arguments against the policy that have failed to expose its most devious and dangerous elements, Halley ends with a persuasive discussion about how it is both unconstitutional and, politically, an act of sustained bad faith.
This knowledgeable and eye-opening analysis of one of the most important public policy debates of the 1990s will interest legal scholars, policymakers, activists, military historians and personnel, as well as citizens concerned about issues of discrimination.