All Things Are Lawful, But Not All Things Are Helpful

Jace Yarbrough: The DoD’s decision to allow uniformed service members to march in San Diego’s LGBT Pride Parade raises some big questions for the future.

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 It is official Department of Defense policy that:

3.1.  The wearing of the uniform by members of the Armed Forces (including retired members and members of Reserve components) is prohibited under any of the following circumstances:

3.1.2.  During or in connection with furthering political activities, private employment or commercial interests, when an inference of official sponsorship for the activity or interest may be drawn.

As with most other aspects of military life, DoD Instruction 1334.01 doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. But as most of you know, the DoD recently authorized wear of the uniform in San Diego’s 2012 LGBT Pride Parade.

Conservative criticism was of course, quick and vehement, but unfortunately most of what I’ve seen has been an attempt to classify the parade as a political event and therefore a violation of DoDI 1334.01, Paragraph 3.1.2 (above). I think this is the wrong argument, but before addressing that point I’d like to highlight some peculiarities in the justification presented to and by the DoD for granting approval.

Justification 1: The parade has no political affiliations, and members of both political parties are participating. Moreover, military members in uniform will be marching in their own section of the parade where no political signs will be displayed. Hence, this event cannot be classified as a “political activity.”

Hmm. So as long as both Dems and Reps show up and no one carries printed political slogans, the event can’t be “furthering political activities”?

Justification 2: Apparently there was also an attempt to portray the parade as essentially a celebration of good old American values. Stars and Stripes reported that, “The Pentagon took the organizers at their word that the theme of the parade was simply a celebration of patriotism and local community — gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangendered though it may be — concluding it was not about partisan political activity.”

Hmm. So there is nothing political here because (disregarding the title of the event) this parade is fundamentally about love of country and locality?

Justification 3: According to the Associated Press, “The department said it made the exception because organizers had encouraged military personnel to march in their uniform and the event was getting national attention.”

Hmm. So authorization was granted because it was requested and the decision would be highly publicized?

As I said, the reasoning I’ve seen for the exception is peculiar, but I don’t think the it’s-a-political-event argument is the correct criticism. I’m grateful that we haven’t lost the ability to distinguish between “political” and “moral/contentious,” as the advocates for this decision have proven. I only wish we’d keep this in mind in all our national arguments.

In my view the strongest counter lies in the following paragraph, also from 1334.01, which states that the wearing of the uniform is prohibited

“3.1.3.  Except when authorized by the approval authorities in subparagraph 4.1.1., when participating in activities such as unofficial public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration, which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.”

The DoD was not violating 1334.01 when it granted this permission; as subparagraph 4.1.1 notes, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has the authority to specify exceptions. But the decision to make this particular exception sets a precedent: that, in some cases, the DoD is willing to authorize uniformed service members to participate in a demonstration sanctioning a highly politicized (though not politically furthering), extremely contentious moral issue.



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  • August 4, 2012

    Glass House

    I agree, they are using their uniform to enhance a politically charged statement. Although the LGBT movement is culturally based, it has political ramifications. It would be the same as uniformed personnel participating in a anti-abortion picket line outside an abortion clinic. It would be participating in a cultural movement that has political ramifications. The military must respect political neutrality.

  • August 5, 2012

    Jace Yarbrough

    Glass House I think you’re right that uniformed participation in this event has political consequences, but given the interdependence of man’s multi-dimensional nature, I would hesitate to describe any human activity as “politically neutral.” Am I being pedantic here? I half suspect you would be ok with ending your comment with , “The military must avoid weighing in on unsettled, politically divisive issues.” In which case I’m being unjustly picky. Am I wrong?

  • August 6, 2012

    Glass House

    Jace, thanks for the reply. While I agree that nothing can be totally neutral, I think we can all agree that there is a “common sense” test that can apply. For instance, participating in a 4th of July parade might be construed as politically derisive to an Anarchist. but the Anarchy movement is a fraction of a minority and is contrary to all that the military holds dear. Also, since the parade hardly lacks the polarizing overtones that say an abortion rally or a LGBT parade might have, we can conclude that the parade is politically neutral, albeit relatively speaking.

    Our military has had a long tradition of defending our political system but not participating in it. Each soldier is allowed their vote, but the military as a whole must not be seen to influence or subvert the political process. They must remain neutral. It is that vein to which I speak of neutrality. 🙂

  • August 7, 2012

    Jace Yarbrough

    Well said, Glass House. Well said.