Before getting to the main point of my blog I wanted to express my condolences for two amazing women. The first is Lillian Miles Lewis, wife of the great Congressman John Lewis, who died on December 31. The second is Jeanne Manford, founder of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, who died on January 8. Both of these individuals left a wonderful mark on the world and will be sorely missed. As for the main post of my post, one of the interesting things about rattlesnakes is that they can be dangerous even when dead. You see, reflexes allow a dead rattlesnake to still inject venom for a limited amount of time. More than one hapless individual has found this out the hard way, accidentally impaling their hand on the fangs of a dead snake and being injected with the venom. I got to thinking about this when I read an article about Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin introducing a clause into the most recent National Defense Authorization Act that reads, “The Armed Forces shall accommodate the conscience and sincerely held moral principles and religious beliefs of the members of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality and may not use such conscience, principles, or beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.” The clause remained in the NDAA, and President Obama signed the bill while including a lengthy signing statement opposing Akin’s clause. Now, I am a fan of President Obama. The amount that he has done for gay rights surpasses what has been done by every other U.S. president put together. But that does not mean that I will withhold criticism when I believe he waffles. And that is exactly what has happened. I have said it before, and I will say it again: the most fundamental test for a nation is whether or not all citizens have equal rights regardless of immutable traits. As long as a nation denies some citizens equal rights based on immutable traits, that nation can neither be truly great nor truly free. With the NDAA, the United States has failed this test in a major way. The security of our nation cannot be bought at the expense of the civil rights of gays and lesbians. President Obama’s decision to sign the bill even though he opposes a discriminatory clause reminds me of Calvin Coolidge’s handling of the Immigration Act of 1924. In the 1920s, some progressives and populists joined with some fiscal conservatives, such as Coolidge, to advocate immigration restriction. The Immigration Act severely cut down on immigration in general and singled out people coming in from Japan, basically forbidding any of them from coming to the United States. Here, Coolidge faced a conflict. He was a product of New England’s rich WASP power structure. His racial views, while much more conservative than those of, say, Parker Pillsbury or Moorfield Storey (in other words, Coolidge was a racist) were moderate or even liberal for the era. He favored federal legislation to ban lynching, signed the Indian Citizenship Act, and advocated a national conversation on race relations. He was appalled when it was suggested that America was, a “white man’s country.” In this vein, he was unhappy with the Immigration Act’s special discrimination against the Japanese. In the end, he made the decision to sign the bill while publicly condemning the Japanese immigrant clause. The result was that, in order to pass a bill that was stupid anyway, Coolidge allowed hardworking, moral Japanese people to be discriminated against based on their ethnicity and may well have helped inflame Japanese anger against the U.S. Pearl Harbor, anyone? I commend President Obama for including a signing statement expressing his disagreement with Akin’s clause. And I believe that as the Commander-in-Chief of the military, he will interpret this idiotic clause in such a way as to avoid allowing anti-gay discrimination. However, I want to explain why the clause is so heinous. It is written in a way that is needlessly open-ended. No clause such as this was needed. Homophobic soldiers should be dealt with in the same manner as racist soldiers–they may have whatever private beliefs they wish, but they may not use those beliefs as an excuse to discriminate against fellow soldiers, harass them, or refuse to do their job. If Akin were not bigoted and had been interested only in “religious freedom,” he could have introduced a clause that read something like this, “Discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden in the United States military, and military personnel will not be penalized for private beliefs about human sexuality.” But that was not what Akin wanted. Instead, he has passed a law that could be read in such a way as to give carte blanche to soldiers whose minds are stuck in 1943 and who can’t deal with the fact that some people are naturally attracted to other people of the same gender. A soldier could refuse to serve in a unit or share lodgings with gay soldiers. They could refuse to be commanded by a gay officer. Military chaplains could refuse to perform same-sex weddings. Now, the idea that forcing military chaplains to perform same-sex weddings is a violation of religious freedom is pretty much self evidently asinine, but since logic and conservative, homophobic Christians seem to go together like Anthony Weiner and Twitter, I figure I will explain it anyway. If, say, the First Baptist Church of Cumming wants to refuse to marry same-sex couples, they have a right to do so. I will refuse to attend this church or show it any respect, but I will not force it to change its policy. Military chaplains, however, are a different matter. They are government employees paid for by taxpayers, some of whom happen to be gay. Hence, they do not have a right to use their religious beliefs as an excuse for discrimination. They may hold whatever personal views they wish about gay marriage and homosexuality. But if they cannot provide equal service, regardless of sexual orientation, to our military personnel and their families, then they ought to search for another job. But at any rate, Akin’s clause was mean-spirited and ill-advised. I have stated for years and still say today that gays and lesbians must be allowed to serve openly in the military even if it were to cause every heterosexual soldier to resign. To have any other policy would be to sanction the heckler’s veto. But in fact, gays and lesbians have now been serving in the military for almost a year and a half without much conflict. This was basically what soldiers from countries that dropped their anti-gay bans earlier, such as Britain, predicted would happen. Yet now, it seems that Akin and his ilk are interested in trying to poison our nation with the venom of a dead rattlesnake. In other words, they are attempting to hurt gay and lesbian soldiers by trying to resurrect a policy that will never be in place again. A rattlesnake, it should be noted, is not an evil creature. It is what it was made by nature and does not attack humans save when provoked. The conservative Christian bigots, however, are acting with malice and will strike unprovoked. The good news is, with every passing day, their venom dries up a bit more.