Uncle’s money, Uncle’s rules

If you take their money, you have to play their game. It’s just that simple, and Congress has made that clear on several occasions to the nation’s universities. They are about to hear it again from the U.S. Supreme Court if those who follow the justices’ decision process are correct.

What we’re talking about is whether military recruiters have equal access to law schools with other potential employers despite the military’s strict rules about sexual orientation _ the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule applied to gay romance _ to which the schools strenuously object as discriminatory.

The court has taken up the case that revolves around congressional mandates, this particular one called the Solomon amendment, that specify that a university that accepts federal funds must not only give the armed forces access but such access has to be equal to what is afforded other recruiters. No off-campus sites will be permitted, thank you very much.

What this means really is that no openly gay candidates, at least those who insist on telling the military about their preference, need apply. If they keep mum about their living arrangements, no one will bother them. Unfair? Probably, but military living, even for judge-advocate candidates, has unique properties that require a different standard than with civilian life, even in this day when gays are generally accepted without prejudice or even raised eyebrows. At least, that is what the military will tell you with some evidence to back it up.

The law schools have been fighting this for years, contending that they are opposed to any kind of discrimination in recruiting, including that based on sexual orientation. But the law schools’ objections have become less strenuous with the threat of hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in lost federal grants to their universities. It seems principles can stand only so much pressure.

Those who naively believe in the heterosexual purity of the armed forces are living on another planet. Gay men always have been a part of the services that defend this country and they have done so with distinction. They were circumspect about their activities. But then, they had to be. In the old days, even off-base cases of overt sexual contact between men, and later women, brought charges and dismissal. From all indications, most units now look the other way in off-base activities including living quarters.

The fact is, the military always has had its own set of rules, many of which clearly won’t hold up under constitutional scrutiny. Look how long it took the services to integrate blacks and women despite the tremendous contributions made by both. Was there any validity to that? Up to President Harry Truman, every president thought so, arguing racial and gender mixture hurt morale. It was the reflection of repressed times. But attitudes and mores have changed dramatically since then.

Military law is just plain different from the civilian variety, and the reasons are obvious. Those defending the nation are asked to do things that civilians aren’t, and it takes a huge amount of discipline to make that work. At the same time, military service is no longer a mandatory proposition. It’s voluntary. Gays who feel uncomfortable with the rules should avoid it. Those who follow the rules can find a rewarding career, albeit without some of the benefits now granted to heterosexual unions or homosexual partnerships in civilian occupations.

The taxpayers who pour untold amounts into universities have a right to expect that no part of those institutions be permitted to deny their representatives, in this case members of the armed forces, the right to seek out the best recruits they can. Certainly, a number of those most qualified to practice military law may be gays who would prefer to keep their preferences to themselves until such time when even the armed forces become enlightened. Those who resent that modified closet approach to their sexuality have other opportunities.

If there ever is a return to the draft, this entire pretense of appearing to be something one isn’t undoubtedly will be re-examined. Until then, there is no real justification for the law schools or any other area of a university that accepts federal aid to deny the military the same chance of filling its needs as is granted private enterprises, many of which produce the materials of defense and war. If you take the pay, you have to play _ by their rules. Otherwise, don’t accept the money. Odds are the high court will hand down that verdict.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)