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.
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.
Jace is a member of the Humane Pursuits editorial board. He is a life-long Texan and is currently a JD candidate at Stanford Law School. Before heading out to California he served in the Air Force, taught AP Calculus in Honduras, studied at the John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law (www.johnjayinstitute.org), and earned his B.A. in Government and B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He enjoys all things old and dust-covered, and his favorite pastime is reading to his wife, son, and daughter.