General Peter Pace is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, - America's highest ranking military position. A few weeks ago, General Pace said in a discussion with editors and reporters of the Chicago Tribune: "I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.”
He further added: "As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior." His moral views about homosexuality are based on his upbringing, he also said in the interview.
I first heard news reports of General Pace's comments while driving in my car. I was incredulous and felt that this must be a misunderstanding that will quickly get cleared up. Just about anyone who knows and meets General Pace mentions what a caring human being he is, as well as being a great leader. Furthermore, someone in his position, given all his extensive dealings with the press and all the media training he must have received through his career, would not express such beliefs publicly, even if he happened to hold them.
But the day after his Chicago Tribune interview, General Pace issued a statement that said: "In expressing my support for the current [don't ask, don't tell] policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views." Senior staff members further added that he was expressing his personal opinion and had no intention of apologizing.
General Pace is obviously entitled to his opinions, but I suspect that he wishes that he had not publicly said something so hurtful to so many. I immediately thought of the impact of such remarks on my gay and lesbian friends, as well as those who have children who are gay or lesbian. I thought of my IBM colleagues who are working so hard in our Global Workforce Diversity programs, whose aim it is to create a culture of diversity and inclusion across the company so we can attract and retain the best possible talent. I wonder how the many thousands in our armed forces who are gay or lesbian felt upon hearing their leader say that their feelings and actions are immoral. My feelings went out to the families of the men and women who have been killed or seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, and happen to be homosexual.
Lest we forget, it was not that long ago that many American states had anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited interracial sexual relations and marriage. In 1965, a Virginia judge sentenced an inter-ethnic married couple to jail, writing in his decision: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Two years later the Supreme Court overruled the decision and ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. At the time (1967), 16 states still had laws on their books prohibiting inter-ethnic marriage. I am sure that many otherwise very good people supported such laws, probably citing moral and religious grounds for their position. I hope that their children and grandchildren now know how cruel and humiliating those laws were.
We should not condone immoral acts, but to do so we all need a kind of personal moral compass. We need a way to help us tell right from wrong. For me, that moral compass is best provided by what is known as The Golden Rule or the Ethic of Reciprocity. While the Golden Rule comes in many forms, its essence is: "Treat others as you want to be treated." Pretty much every religion has its version of the Golden Rule. The Torah records that Moses said "Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself." Rabbi Hillel, a famous Jewish religious leader who lived right around the same time and place as Jesus, is famous for his teaching, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Torah; all the rest is commentary; go and learn." The Gospel of Matthew tells us about Jesus’ well-known dictum "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is clear from additional writings that Jesus meant this statement to apply to all human beings.
While its origins are religious in nature, I personally think of the Golden Rule more in moral or ethical terms, to be applied whether you are religious or not. It asks us to put ourselves in the shoes of our fellow human beings, reflect on the impact of our actions and words on them, and act accordingly.
Beyond the members of my family, I cannot honestly understand why relationships between two people committed to each other, be they heterosexual or homosexual, be they of the same ethnicity or not, are any business of mine. Why should I consider the relationships between my friends and colleagues who happen to be homosexual any less moral than that between my wife and me? When I apply the moral compass of the Golden Rule to homosexual relationships, all I can think of is that, were I or any of my children homosexual, it would indeed be very painful to have anyone refer to my feelings and actions as immoral, especially in public statements by highly respected leaders of society. I believe that “Treat Others as You Want to be Treated” implies that I should not tell another human being that their romantic and sexual feelings are in any way immoral, just because they happen to be different from mine.
In the last 50 years our country has made major advances in accepting all our people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion - and now, - sexual preference. In the increasingly complex and challenging world we face, I am convinced that our culture of diversity will continue to be one of the key strengths of our country.