In October 1991 Associate Defense Minister Mary Collins argued that homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the armed forces.
“Whether you’re a man or a woman, a black or a white, a Jew or a Christian, a homosexual or not, what does it matter?” she asked a parliamentary committee.
MP Pat Nowlan replied that the Americans do not allow homosexuals in their military because their conduct impairs discipline and morale.
Since Ms. Collins and Mr. Nowlan are both Tories, the division of opinion suggest that the Conservative caucus is divided on the matter. In fact, an announcement approved the acceptance of active homosexuals in the armed forces was expected and then scrapped.
It is “time to recruit the gays,” an editorial in the Montreal Gazette maintained. The writer argued that the existing policy is in conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is based on little more than bigotry.
Canadian Human Rights commissioner Max Yalden similarly argued that the policy is “discriminatory” and should be changed. “We’re not living in Oscar Wilde’s time,” he said. He also said that there was a “substantial proportion” of males and females in uniform who are homosexual, “just as there were fifty years ago when Canadian troops were at war.”
No proof, however, was provided.
A more thoughtful approach to the question was taken by U.S. Federal Judge Oliver Gasch in upholding a ban on homosexuals in the American armed forces last December.
The regulation was partly justified, he pointed out, to prevent the spread of AIDS in the military. Homosexual men are at the greatest risk of testing positive for HIV, and therefore the policy of excluding them “is rational in that it is directed, in part, at preventing those who are at the greatest risk of dying of AIDS from serving in the navy and the other armed services.”
The policy is understandable in view of the overall mission of defending the nation: “The interest we as a nation have in a healthy military cannot be underestimated or discounted.”
The U.S. case concerned a former midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, Joseph Steffan, who, after he admitted to being a homosexual, was forced to resign in 1987. Even though there was no evidence he had engaged in homosexual activity, the judge said, the presumption had to be that one day he would act on his preferences.
The judge listed other reasons for the ban, including the maintenance of good order, discipline, and morality.
The quite rational assumption in the navy, he said, is that with no one present who has a homosexual orientation personnel can undress, sleep, bathe, and use toilet facilities without feeling that they are being viewed as sexual objects.