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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK


Head to head: Gays in the military

The European Court of Human Rights may have ruled that the ban on gays in the UK armed forces is a breach of human rights, but that doesn't change the arguments for those involved.

Here General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley argues that morale and discipline will be affected by the ruling while Angela Mason, spokeswoman for Stonewall, heralds the decision.

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General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley:

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the British Armed Forces are obliged to enlist avowed homosexuals. Wittingly or otherwise, this decision will strike at morale and discipline.

The court's assumption is that military employments are much the same as others. But they are not.

The services are recruited and trained for war fighting. In this function death or wounds are a regular outcome. Those engaged are obliged to operate in close groups for long periods; comradeship is the binding factor. Ata a time when homogeneity is essential, sexual squabbles will be disruptive. Perhaps fatally so.

The BBC's Graham Satchell: "The Government policy of banning gay men and women is now in tatters"
The fragmentary but noisy sexual lobby asks 'why should Britain stand alone in this matter?'. It does not. For example, the United States forces - principally regular - have a clear policy. Recruiters do not ask and individuals do not tell whether they are gay or not.

Two surveys have disclosed that the overwhelming majority of those in military service today find homosexuality abhorrent.

They resent the rejection of their opinion as valueless and question how far this form of change will lead. Are transsexuals and transvestites to be admitted?

Wellington's remarks about some of his soldiers may have a new application: "I don't know whether they will scare the enemy, but they certainly frighten me."
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Angela Mason, spokesperson for the lesbian and gay rights group Stonewall:

The Court of Human Rights has condemned the government witch-hunts against lesbians and gays in the military. Men and women, with exemplary military records, who have been hunted down, endured humiliating interrogations and dismissed solely because of their sexuality, will finally win compensation.

The days of the ban are over.

This is good news for everybody. The armed forces are desperately short of recruits. It makes no sense to dismiss highly trained personnel. Lifting the ban will not make the armed services one bit less effective. You don't have to be heterosexual to shoot straight!

Lifting the ban now will save a lot of money. If the government ignore the decision of the European Court the taxpayers bill could rise to over £6 million.

There are those who claim, including the Ministry of Defence that, men and women in the British forces are somehow uniquely prejudiced -that they would refuse to serve with lesbians and gay men. I believe that this is in an insult. A new NOP poll, published last week, shows that 68% of the population thought the ban should be lifted, including 58% of Tories.

The case of John Beckett, who served in the Royal Navy and is now a policeman in Sheffield, illustrates the point. John served in submarines living and working in close quarters with his heterosexual colleagues.

Nobody ever made any complaint about his behaviour. But when he told his chaplain that he had a gay civilian partner he was immediately dismissed. His commanding officer commented upon his efficiency, intelligence and dedication. We need people like John Beckett in the armed forces not out of it.

In East Timor the international peace keeping forces from Australia and New Zealand have no gay ban. Nor did the Dutch forces in Bosnia or the German and the French in Kosovo. Is anyone seriously saying that this makes them unfit to do the job?

In 1996 government lawyers advised Michael Portillo as Minister of Defence that the ban was a breach of the Convention of Human Rights. He chose to ignore that advice. It would be a disgrace if a Labour Government, which has passed the Human Rights Act, were to play the same game.
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