A reader writes:

I disagree completely with the 82nd Airborne vet. I served a four-year enlistment in the Marine Corps and I did live in crowded barracks, floated for six months on an even more crowded ship, and served a combat tour in the field. And, as I think back to that time, I can honestly say that no Marine in any command I ever served in would have been “fragged” for being openly gay. It is beyond my imagination that anyone would have tolerated that. (By the way, fragging, if it even occurs anymore, would be far more likely a reaction to poor leadership than sexual orientation.)

What I can imagine are some awkward moments, maybe some not-so-good-natured teasing, hazing, even a fight or two. But that's a large part of what goes on in many hyper-masculine environments anyway. (Hell, that's what goes on in some college dormitories.) At the end of the day it was about earning and maintaining the trust of your platoon. Unit cohesion was almost singularly about whether you could pull your weight and be counted on to share the suffering than who you were hooking up with.

I think you are dead-on that vast majority of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen will not come out in the barracks (or wherever they serve). Those that do would likely do so quietly to trusted peers. Most would continue to keep their private lives to themselves. Which is what most successful Marines did, gay and straight.

Now, none of this is to say that a gay activist, someone who really wants to let that freak flag fly, would be tolerated very long. But it wouldn't be because they are gay– rather, the military isn't tolerant of activists in general. By it’s fundamental nature the military is a unique setting and by joining you give up some aspects of individuality and, yes, even some rights – after all, the whole is more important than it's parts.

There is a behavioral box, and you are expected to operate within that box. And that means you keep your drinking under control, you keep your spouse from interfering with your job, you downplay your politics and religion, you keep your personal business from affecting your work. If you choose to act out you will run up against a wall. That wall might be from your command or it might be from your peers, but there will be resistance to activism.

I would argue that it might actually be easier for the military to make this transition than it was to integrate blacks or move women into combat environments - because gays would have the option of deciding for themselves who knew what their sexual preference was. Racists knew who they hated and there was no hiding if you were black. Misogynists, probably a larger problem in the military anyway, made little effort to hide their feelings towards women.

I believe this will be a non-event once it happens. And it needs to happen. And happen sooner than later.