Swimming Pools and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’: A Guest Post

With the Democrats in control of Congress, and with the prediction markets suggesting a Democratic presidential victory, there has been a lot of talk about ending sexual orientation discrimination in the military by repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (“DADT”) policy.

There are always two ways of ending de jure discrimination: you can level up, or level down. In the late 1950s, the estimable city of Greensboro, N.C., operated a whites-only swimming pool. When a group of African Americans petitioned the city council to end the segregation, the council relented — by closing the pool to both whites and blacks.

As such, there are also two ways to end the military’s de jure discrimination based on sexual orientation. We can either repeal DADT, or we could extend its application to heterosexuals as well. If extended, no soldier could talk about his or her orientation without risk of exclusion.

My own church, St. Thomas Episcopal in New Haven, tried a version of this strategy. In 2004, the church vestry adopted a resolution “calling for St. Thomas’s clergy to treat same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples equally in administering the sacrament of marriage,” as the church Web site describes it. The Bishop was not amused, and within 3 days he called an emergency meeting warning our rector, Father Michael Ray, that he risked being defrocked if he performed marriage ceremonies for any same-sex couples inside the church. Ray responded by honoring both the request of the vestry and the demands of the Bishop by announcing a moratorium on the celebration of all marriages. The Times ran a great piece describing the event.

Extending DADT could similarly allow the military to serve seemingly conflicting goals. It would satisfy those people who cling to the antiquated idea that DADT is necessary to preserve “unit cohesion.” Homophobes wouldn’t be put off by having to serve with openly gay comrades. But as a matter of formal law, it would treat everyone the same with regard to their sexual orientation.

Let me be clear: I favor the immediate repeal of DADT. I don’t buy the unit cohesion argument. You can read more about my views on DADT (to borrow from “Naked Self Promotion”) in Chapter 6 of this book. But the real value in the idea of extending DADT to heterosexuals is as a thought experiment. It makes clear the costs of closeting. It’s hard to imagine what married soldiers would have to do to comply. Extending DADT would be a recruiting disaster, and could be far more destructive of unit cohesion. Suddenly, heterosexuals would have to bear the same kinds of costs that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender soldiers have been bearing for years (just as heterosexual couples at our church have had to bear the same costs that LGBT couples have borne — not being able to religiously marry).


Just because you don't believe unit cohesion would have any problems doesn't make it so. I tend to think the same thing, however I also think it should be left up to the military itself to decide what is best for its own effectiveness. I also believe that the effectiveness of the military is much more important than having "fair" admission policies.


Eventually all ranks will be OK with homosexuals serving. Most of the military now have no problem with it according to surveys -- the younger you are, the less issues you have. Its the higher, i.e., older, ranks that still have issues. But they will retire or die. Clearly given that its not an issue in top rank military organizations (Israeli and British armed forces for example), it would not be an issue here. If it is, then we have a problem with discipline that would show up in other ways also. So its inevitable. And just like with segregation, economically it makes no sense at all to discriminate.


"Just because you don't believe unit cohesion would have any problems doesn't make it so. I tend to think the same thing, however I also think it should be left up to the military itself to decide what is best for its own effectiveness. I also believe that the effectiveness of the military is much more important than having "fair" admission policies."

One could very easily say the same thing about racial integration of military units. In WWII, it was anathema, but today the military is a shining beacon of racial equality. Why cannot the same work with regards to sexual orientation?


DADT is a failed policy, and my preference would be that it be reversed.

What I think is interesting is Mr. Ayers' first paragraph regarding the policy's reversal if both the legislative and executive branches are in the hands of Democrats.

Please correct me if my memory is faulty, but I believe that the legislative branch had nothing to do with the policy's implementation -- it was an executive order by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat I believe.

In any case, at a minimum the House was controlled by Democrats when the policy was implemented. So what makes anyone believe that now would be any different.


Of 25 countries that participate militarily in NATO, more than 20 permit homosexuals to serve. Homosexuals are currently serving in our armed forces (I have first hand knowledge of this) and the armed forces of our allies. That will not change. The difference is that in our armed forces, they are not allowed to admit to it (limiting their freedom of speech). Yes, serving in the armed forces (as I have for more than 7 years) is different than working for Starbucks, but it does not discount the fact that the primary mission of our armed forces is to defend the US constitution which states all men are created equal and deserve to be treated equally.

At one point admitting women to the United States Air Force Acadmey was thought to disrupt unit cohesion and it did, but people get over it, they moved on, or they got out of the military. The same should hold true for homosexuals. How can we possibly expect our military to defend the rights of US citizens when they do not appropriately represent US demographics or even our own constituion by treating everyone equally?

DADT is antiquated and I can tell you our young LTs are ready for the challenge of repealing it. It is the Generals (clear throat: General Pace) that need to step aside and let a generation greater than their own take lead on this one.

I was under the impression that a major tenet of freakonomics was to let economics take you where it will without the limitations of others shouting "hey! you can't do that with economics!"



I commented earlier, but would like to clarify:

I think what it comes down to is whether a given unit is ready to accept a gay member within their ranks with little or no cohesive breakdown. This is true of racial integration today, though it wasn't always the case. If it is in fact true of homosexuality, then let's get rid of DADT, if it's not, then maybe we should keep it. I don't know the answer, and my hunch is Mr. Ayres doesn't either - that he's simply appealing to fairness.

Very interesting thought experiment, though, and worthy of Freakonomics, IMHO.


If I had to wait for the whole of the United State's Air Force Academy cadet wing to vote whether women should have been allowed, I NEVER would have been allowed.... In case you missed that...I would have been allowed... NEVER. Would the south have ever unanimously voted to abolish slavery? The continued presence of the KKK makes me think otherwise. I'm sorry, but there is a reason we have a repulic where the will of the majority is not allowed to oppress the minority.

Fortunately Mike wasn't in charge of the Air Force or USAFA and I was allowed to attend and I outperformed the vast majority of my male classmates.

Sometimes you have to make people do the right thing NOW using our legislative and political processes and let them come around later.


Mr. Winston

I approve of your message: to take us back to an economic discussion. I also applaud your logic: open homosexuality leads to reduced reproductive success, which leads to fewer homosexuals.

Unfortunately, the evidence and history doesn't necessarily bear this out. The animal kingdom is stocked with reproductively detrimental behavior: sterile castes of bees and ants, birds that forgo reproduction in favor of supporting their siblings, etc. Similarly, anthropology gives us plenty of examples of non-reproductive, and in fact, even gay roles in societies - the bachelor medicine man, for instance.

If homosexuality is in fact a genetic behavioral trait, there really isn't evidence that it can and will be eliminated by any sort of natural selection. The key may be that we share some genes with our relatives and neighbors. Maybe it is evolutionarily beneficial to have a gay relative or friend. Somebody tell Dick Cheney.



Mr. Winston:

Jake already did a great job of this, but being a bit of a junkie in this field, I feel I'll weigh in too.

Recessive traits are not eliminated from the gene pool unless they hurt the carriers' chance of survival drastically - that is, they must prevent those who carry the genetic components for a predisposition to the trait, but don't express it, from reproducing as well.

That is, by the way, assuming homosexuality is a binary (i.e. based on complete dominance/recession, not codominance), recessive, single-gened, autosomal trait. Which is true in, to give you an idea, fruit flies (sort of)...and nothing more genetically complex than that.

Further, the idea that expressed homosexuality is necessarily detrimental to a specie's net population growth rate is unsubstantiated. In science, traditionally we test the hypothesis BEFORE we assert the conclusions.

As an analog, several species select mates based on traits which are themselves lethal to the males who express them (peacocks being an obvious and somewhat simplistic example). Further, as a societal species, population growth rates of the group is determined by more than simply how many progeny each individual produces. Paradoxically, this is exceptionally clear in our complex society: adoption.

Working off your assumption that unwanted children are less successful, adopting children reduces that effect exponentially - because those children, once made successful themselves, become likely to produce more successful children. After a certain point, producing more offspring without proportionally sustaining their success as individuals is detrimental to the population (Hi, China). Homosexual couples enact this already exponential improvement to the next power: they increase the chance of success of more offspring, without contributing to the rate of population.

Your reasoning would follow, then, that expressed homosexuality is virtually maximally efficient in maintaining a healthy balance between population growth and quality of life for each individual. This is all going off your (absurdly manichaean) assumptions. The reality is that without evidence supporting it, your layman's assertion holds no water at all.

Your absolute ignorance of basic genetics is shameful. Educate yourself before polluting this discussion further. Please.


Mr. Winston

I don't fully buy your argument. Aside from your examples, the animal kingdom is also stock full with examples from species that humans should "choose" not to replicate even if it is a part of our genetic makeup, e.g. black widows and praying mantis. Anthropology also serves as a poor guide, as witnessed by the Ancient Greeks fascination with "the youth." At the end of the day it is a choice whether or not you act on your feelings. Being a part of genetics has never made it right or wrong.

Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered all are very easily mutable traits. Being African American is not, very different from the example of pool segregation. At the end of the day it comes down to choice, we choose to act on our tendencies or we choose to disagree with them. In a society where we will never be able to agree whether this is sexually deviant behaviour or whether this is acceptable behaviour, DADT is a fantastic policy. Forcing the acceptance of either of those is forcing "beliefs" on you, and prevents us from making choices. So, my recommendation is don't force your beliefs on me, and I won't force my beliefs on you. In other words, Dont ask, Dont tell.


Mike C

I agree with Minority Opinion. The government should have nothing to do with marriage.


Just one comment. You said: "just as heterosexual couples at our church have had to bear the same costs that LGBT couples have borne -- not being able to religiously marry"

Not being able to RELIGIOUSLY marry is not the (only) cost that LGBT couples have borne. They are also not allowed to marry in a civil ceremony. That article you linked says that the pastor's daughter chose not to get married in a church to show solidarity for LGBT couples-- but she is still getting married in a civil ceremony, which is the one that counts for all earthly purposes. The civil ceremony is the one that matters when it comes to having the right to make medical decisions for each other, both be legal parents to your children, inherit property, etc.

I do not think any religion should be forced to perform gay marriages-- if they choose to be bigoted that is their problem and they'll probably lose members over it. But nobody is forced to be a part of that church, so that's their problem.

However, all citizens of this country ARE forced to follow the laws governing civil marriages, so those are the ones I care about changing.

Civil unions is a good step (even though most states still don't offer those) but I think any adult couple should be able to get legally married. As long as a straight couple can go to court and get legally married without having to involve any religion, you can't claim that "marriage is religious." In this country, it isn't. It can be religious if a couple chooses to make it so, but it is not inherently religious.



Not OPENLY allowing homosexuals to be in the military is no more effective and makes no more sense than if we had not OPENLY allowed women in the military... So only if I don't tell anyone I'm a woman and if I don't look like a woman is it ok for me to serve.... thats ridiculous. And yes, as a female serving in the military I did get harassed occasionally but at least I had the RIGHT to OPENLY choose to be in the military. I got to make that choice; it wasn't made for me and I am very grateful I had that choice... I only wish everyone who wanted that choice could have it as well.

Former Army guy

Frankly, the DADT policy was, is, and always will be crap. We had plenty of fairly open homosexuals while I was in the service, and it never hurt any unit I was in. Oh, some of our gay soldiers were jerks or bad soldiers, but in no greater percentage than the straight soldiers. No, poor leadership is what hurts unit cohesiveness - and picking out one group to punish because of a private activity is very poor leadership.


Mr Winston,

Dont ask, Dont tell is NOT equivalent to "don't force your beliefs on me, and I won't force my beliefs on you." (which is a pretty weak form of tolerance with many flaws anyway)

It is more like "I will force my beliefs on you by not allowing you to express your beliefs publicly."


The thinking Christian can freely acknowledge that homosexual feelings are not by choice, but are, at the least, influenced by environment/nurture, and, at most, are geneticially caused.

First, we KNOW that it is NOT fully genetic (if at all genetic). We know this because if one identical twin was gay, both would be, would they not? And so, we must conclude that other forces are also at play.

Now, let's take it to the next step....

Homosexual behavior (as opposed to homosexual feelings) is no more or less sinful than fornication or adultery in heterosexuals. While all may be driven by some sexual urge, these behaviors do not get a free pass from scripture.

Very simply, I may feel like choking the living daylights out of someone. I may feel it strongly. In fact, I may even be genetically predisposed to that sort of violent desire. But that doesn't justify it or give me a free pass with God.

When I was a young man, there were sexual longings that were every bit a part of me as my appetite for food, my need for air, and so forth. But had I acted on them, I would have sinned.

It seems that the argument presented in this blog would be equivalent to a married man finding that he is in a sexless marriage...and wanting to satisfy this legitimate need outside of marriage.

Now, if I were the judge, I might give him a dispensation. But I'm not the judge. And the only guide we have that declares itself to be divine says, basically, "Even if you can justify it to yourself, and even it you can't help feeling the way you do, it is still wrong."

I truly feel for the homosexual. I grasp that what they feel for the same sex is just as sincere and true as what I might feel for the opposite sex. But that is not a good enough argument to justify the behavior, for if it were, then I suppose about every fornicator and adulterer could make a pretty good case for themselves, too.

The answer? It's a tough and sad answer, but it is, very simply, to refrain from homosexual behavior, even if that is the true feelings of one's heart. Likewise, the young man who is bursting with aroused passion...he is likewise instructed that it is sin to act on that outside marriage. The same with the man in the sexless marriage. He may feel utterly justified...but that does not mean he is.

Now, this is assuming, of course, that one is wanting to be a Christian. If one wants to make up one's own religion, or perhaps re-interpret the very life out of Christianity, then I suppose one can be a practicing homosexual and "Christian" at the same time. But make no mistake--this will not be the Christianity that you aspired to. It will be an altogether different thing, bereft of the pungency and moral standards that were crucial to it.

And as for marriage, we have milleniums of human understanding and acceptance that marriage is about a man and a woman. Period. You don't get to change the rule just because it makes you feel left out. If the government wants to recognize your homosexual union, that's fine. I certainly don't begrudge a gay couple having certain fair rights. But let's not have any of this nonesense that you are now "married." You're not.

If I want to play baseball, I don't get to say, "Hey, I have trouble hitting the ball. I just want an automatic double every time I get up to bat." You may be playing something that looks like baseball...but it's not baseball. To play baseball, you have to follow it's rules. And to be married, you have to do the man and woman thing.

Lastly, lest this come across a bit hurtful to gay brothers and sisters, if there is anything at all that Christianity offers, it is forgiveness. I can offer no promises that your feelings will change, but if you falter and fail on your journey, there is a Savior who forgives. And if you are a homosexual who is sincere about Jesus, and if you are sincere enough to do "whatever it takes" to please the Master, then, if you struggle and succumb to temptation at times, well, I can only say that there is no one that doesn't fail at times...and there is no long-term Christians that haven't had to approach God many times for forgiveness for this or that sin. So you are in good company.


Mr. Winston

Good post AaronS. Finally someone approached this from the appropriate angle. This is not a scientific issue, this is a moral and ethical issue.

It just so happens that I am repulsed certain types of heterosexual behaviour as well. For example, my boss stares at porn for hours on his work computer. Occasionally he shuts his door and forgets to zip his pants back up before he exits the office. To me this type of behaviour is repulsive and I think it is safe to label that as sexually deviant. Now, hypothetically, what if some higher up told me, "you have to accept his behaviour as the norm?" Well, then that would forcing me to adopt a standard that goes against my values.

I'm not saying sexual acts by homosexuals is sexually deviant behaviour...but I think the argument can be made, and certainly should be allowed to be made. If you take away someone's right to disagree, then it's really hard to consider yourself in favor of civil liberties.

A side note for Mani: You are correct in your assertion that I know nothing about genetics. However, I do know something about finance and economics, and this topic is a far cry from those subjects. It remains my suggestion to the Freakonomics forum editors to distance itself from politics unless you plan to relate it back into economics somehow. Finally, there is no need to try and insult me or others who post here. Ironically, your doing so makes your side sound like the "intolerant" one.


Rich Wilson

Unintended consequences: perfect example.

In response to overtime lawsuit, IBM lowers salaries 15% to compensate.


Former Army guy

Here's another little stream of conciousness comment from me. While in Korea, I saw fraternization, adultery, underage drinking encouraged, and numerous other things that not only were immoral or offensive to others, but are against the UCMJ and therefore just as illegal as being openly gay.

Yet, why are there no significant calls to drum adulterers out of the military? The military turns a blind eye to this kind of stuff all the time, and only if the behavior gets over the top, or you have a zealous commander, does this behavior get seriously punished. Heck, I'd be more worried serving next to a guy whose own wife couldn't trust him than I would be next to a guy who was true to his husband.

Hypocrisy! And as for the economic argument, enlistment bonuses and recruiting campaign budgets are ginormous right now. Every gay person kicked out or turned away at the door is a significant hit on the taxpayers wallet, for no good reason.



If one were to look at the argument of "Unit Cohesion " logically and in regards to the number of personnel discharged under DADT in peace time then contrast the number of personnel discharged under DADT during a time of conflict. One would notice a substantial drop during a time of conflict. Now there maybe numerous reasons for this however it has been my experience that the numbers decrease during a time of conflict because the "unit cohesion" excuse is a red herring to hide the true reason for the DADT. That reason is to preserve the concept of military masculinity. This is the same reason that many did not want women to join the military as well, with the exception of women filling the MOS's of clerks, secretaries and nurses. Modern young men in western societies lack that right of passage from boy to man and joining the military is in part one of the last vestiges of a right of passage from boy to man. But the concept is disturbed if women can join and if gay men can join as well, since gay men are perceived to be effeminate; thus, lacking masculinity and disturbing the concept of what a man is suppose to be.