British Conservatives May Reinstate Military Homosexual Ban

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - Opposition conservatives in Britain warned Thursday they eventually may reinstate the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, a prohibition the Labor government lifted this week.

The government's announcement Wednesday followed a European Court of Human Rights decision last September, which said Britain's ban on homosexuals serving in the military was unlawful. The government said the status quo was "not legally sustainable" in the light of the European ruling.

But Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative Party's spokesman on defense, said a future Conservative government would carry out a "fundamental review" of the issue. He noted that armed services chiefs had made it clear that "lifting the ban would adversely affect operational effectiveness" and that he believed their advice should be followed.

Julian Brazier, another Conservative lawmaker and member of a parliamentary defense committee, concurred.

In his dealings with servicemen at all ranks, he told Thursday, he had found "overwhelming support for the ban and opposition to lifting it."

A small minority felt otherwise, he said, but the further down the ranks one went, the smaller that minority appeared to be. It was worth noting, added Brazier, that senior officers seldom shared sleeping quarters.

"Apart from anything else there is an issue of privacy here - in the forces you don't
just work together, you share your home," he said. Supporters of the ban believe heterosexual personnel may resent having to share cramped quarters with homosexuals.

Brazier said a future Conservative government would carefully examine the effects of having the ban lifted, "with a view to probably rescinding" the decision.

From a legal point of view, Brazier said there was no reason in principle why Britain should not be able to opt out of certain aspects of the European Convention of Human Rights. He noted that France, when it signed onto the convention, had explicitly excluded its entire military disciplinary code.

The government's announcement was made in the House of Commons by Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, who simultaneously unveiled a new code of conduct for the military, governing the behavior of heterosexual and homosexual personnel alike.

The code is an attempt to placate the fears of senior officers that operational efficiency may be adversely affected by the lifting of the homosexual prohibition.

It outlaws any behavior seen to undermine the morale and cohesion of a unit, including unwelcome sexual attention, taking advantage of subordinates, or displays of affection that may cause offence.

Personnel breaching the code could be transferred, or eventually discharged.

About 600 men and women who lost their jobs over the past 10 years for being homosexual will be invited to re-enlist. "If they want to re-apply we will, subject to their health and fitness, look very sympathetically at those applications," Hoon said.

A 450-page Ministry of Defense report compiled in 1996 concluded that ending the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces would damage fighting efficiency.

It said that while "evolving social attitudes towards homosexuality" may prompt further reviews "it may equally be that the permanent features of the military environment are such that it will never be possible to integrate homosexuals."

The report said military life was very different from that in the civilian world: "No other
employer sends its employees out in disciplined teams to kill and be killed."

The homosexuality advocacy group Outrage greeted Hoon's announcement as "a welcome first step towards eradicating homophobia from the armed forces."

But spokesperson Peter Tatchell warned that "homophobic harassment" would continue unless tough action was taken to curb it.

"What is needed is an educational campaign - similar to the military's current efforts against racism - to create a safe, sympathetic environment for gay members of the forces," he said.

"Without these initiatives to stamp out queer-bashing, the military will remain a hostile institution."

Britain's decision brings it into step with most other western countries, including NATO members, Israel, Australia and South Africa.

In the United States, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy continues to generate debate.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow