The Marines listening to Bartos — most in their 20s — sat quietly, upright and stone-faced in blue plastic chairs, sipping occasionally from water bottles or cans of Red Bull. There were no smirks or eye-rolls as he discussed issues such as “consensual sodomy” or potential religious opposition to homosexuality.
Members of OutServe, a network of anonymous active-duty gay service members, said they have heard of very few occasions of instructors or troops joking about the instructional information.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said, “It’s remarkable how so far, the training and education is really a nonevent.” SLDN is representing troops discharged under the current policy.
When Bartos asked for follow-up questions, most came from Juan Vega, 25, a Navy combat medic from Houston.
“Life happens,” Vega said. “What if a military member was in an accident at work and they were in the emergency room or admited to the naval hospital, which would be on base. Their civilian partner doesn’t have a military ID card due to the Defense of Marriage Act. How would that person get on base in an emergency? Does anyone have a plan for that?”
“Just because they’re not entitled to specific beneficiary entitlements, you could still put a same-sex partner on a record of emergency data,” Bartos replied.
Later, Vega turned to Lt. Cmdr. Marcus Lawrence, a chaplain with the Convocation of Anglicans of North America, who was also attending the session. Vega asked him whether a same-sex couple could attend religious services on base together.
“I’ve never issued a test to figure out what a person’s sexual orientation is,” Lawrence said. “Anybody is more than welcome to attend a service.”
But Douglas Lee, who is responsible for selecting and endorsing chaplains with the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel, said once the policy changes, “many chaplains will be wondering if their career is going to be in jeopardy because of what they might say.”
“They’re already assisting homosexuals and all sorts of people who come their way,” Lee said. “My concern is the challenge will come from the homosexual lobby in some interesting ways that could affect the opportunity for our chaplains to freely exercise their faith.”
After the session, about a dozen Marines said they closely tracked last year’s political debate that prompted the policy change and believe they better understand gay culture than previous generations.
“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, you never saw gays and stuff on the TV shows that often,” Sgt. Jimmy Smalygo, 28, said. “But as the years progressed, especially in the last decade, how many shows are out there that are based on gays?”
Some level of familiarity may exist, said Cpl. David McGuire, 24, but the training matters because “you have Marines from all over the country — from California, where it’s legal to be married to a gay person, or in Mississippi and Arkansas, where there are Marines who grew up with their family completely disagreeing with that situation.”
Cpl. Crystal Person, 23, was more philosophical about the changes.
“Over the years, things are going to change,” she said. “As of now, they’re letting gay people in the military, but they’re not letting gay people get married. But that’s something that everybody sitting in this room wearing the uniform agreed to when they signed up. As a Marine, as a sailor, you have to abide by those rules.”
To read more of the Marines’ comments about the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” go to www.washingtonpost.com/federaleye
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