In the past month the gay rights movement won a minor victory behind the efforts of an unexpected hero, and was dealt a public blow by one of its longest-standing opponents.
The victory came in the Wyoming state legislature the last week of February, when 27 year-old Republican Representative Dan Zwonitzer spoke passionately before the House Rules Committee in opposition to a bill that would have denied legal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Zwonitzer, who is heterosexual, told the Jackson Hole Star Tribune on March 6 that he didn’t care if his stand cost him his seat in the legislature.
“I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them,” he said. “And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat, so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.” The crusade for gay equality, Rep. Zwonitzer told the Rules Committee, is the civil rights struggle of his generation., 
The blow came from the United States military in the person of Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace, who told the Chicago Tribune during a telephone interview this past Monday, “
Pace issued a statement through the Defense Department the next day attempting to soften his words to the Tribune, saying “In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views.” At least Pace is sticking to his guns, and not compounding bigotry with cowardice.
On his syndicated radio segment, “The Osgood File,” CBS News Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood suggested that Pace’s remarks had ignited such controversy because the general had said “what he really thinks.” Public figures often behave as though they’re allergic to candor, so Osgood does have a point, but it wasn’t a lack of guile that got Pace into trouble.
Dan Zwonitzer identified the gay rights movement as the civil rights struggle of his generation. Since he and I are the same age, it’s also the civil rights struggle of my generation. Some leaders of the black civil rights movement, especially those with religious roots, protest that it’s not the same thing, but it is. The struggle isn’t to win equality for this or that minority group-the struggle is to establish under the law that all citizens are entitled to the same rights and privileges, and subject to the same responsibilities, no matter what their sex, race, or sexual orientation.
Optional among those responsibilities (and privileges, for some) is service in the armed forces. Under the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule, homosexuals are banned from serving openly in the U.S. military. Supporters of the policy claim it is based on a desire for efficiency, and insist that allowing openly gay men and women to enlist would be distracting and disruptive. If that is the case (and many sources within the military, including retired Army General John M. Shalikashvili, say it is not), then it’s long past time for the military to grow up.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is not based on efficiency, but on fear born of ignorance and bigotry. The fact that 9,488 service members have been forced to leave the military since the policy was adopted in 1993 speaks quite eloquently to its inefficiency. Some may argue that there are no parallels between the black civil rights movement and the gay civil rights movement, but they abound; the reasons cited for barring gays from military service are the same as those given fifty years ago by supporters of racial segregation in the military: that it would be disruptive, that it would undermine competence, that the military was no place for “social experimentation.” The arguments for discrimination were wrong then, and they are wrong now.
Dan Zwonitzer got it right when he framed the fight for gay equality as a moral issue. It is nothing but a moral issue. Equality under the law (including the rights to marry, have children, and serve openly in the military) must be guaranteed for homosexuals not for their sake, but for our sake as a nation. We cannot dare call ourselves a moral society while we allow millions of our fellow citizens to be denied the civil rights most of us take for granted. We cannot continue to allow religion or personal prejudice to justify institutionalized bigotry.
The oft-debated issue of whether homosexuality is a choice or an unavoidable result of genetics is irrelevant. The question isn’t, “Do people choose to be gay?”; the question is, “Do we choose to live in a truly free society?” If we answer yes, we must accept that the sexual preferences of our fellow citizens, as long as they are carried out between consenting adults, are none of our business. We must accept that denying certain citizens their civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation is morally indefensible. Until there are no more second-class citizens, until the law guarantees the rights of all Americans equally, the freedom we cherish and presume to share with the world is only an illusion.
 San Francisco Bay Times, 3/1/2007
 “Panel kills gay marriage bill,” Jackson Hole Star Tribune, 2/25/2007
 “General Tries to Clarify Remarks on Gay Troops,” New York Times, 3/13/2007