Dahlia and Amanda , you’re totally right that Republican excuses about morale and saving lives were just wispy smoke screens for something more sinister and irrational. Fortunately, despite facing stiff opposition from prominent Republican senators, all the lobbying, cajoling, and deal-making paid off in the end. Every single Democratic senator chose to stand on the right side of history and voted for repeal, along with eight of their GOP colleagues. What’s most striking about the Republican pols who reversed course and refused to toe their party’s paleolithic line is not the paltry number, but how overwhelmingly young and female they were.
Of the four Republican women in the Senate, three voted for repeal. With the exception of Dem-friendly George Voinovich of Ohio, the GOP men were all in their early-to-mid 50s, relative infancy for the geriatric upper chamber of Congress. This high level of support for gay rights among the women and younger generation of legislators jibes with national surveys of attitudes toward homosexuality and should confirm, once and for all, that the military’s continued ban on gays was never about discipline, battle readiness, or unit cohesion. It was about ickiness.
Studies have repeatedly shown that the emotion of disgust can be a powerful player in human decision-making and moral judgment . In spite of our best rational selves, we are beholden to our primal, gut reactions to sights, smells, and behaviors that we find foreign or repugnant. And so are government officials, even when making important legislative or legal determinations that seem to have a sound basis in logic. Researchers have found that one’s sensitivity to disgust accurately predicts negative attitudes toward homosexuality. Moral disgust, which is heavily influenced by prevailing cultural norms overlaps extensively with the more familiar sense of physical disgust that we feel when exposed to dirt and disease and which subtly guides our lives. In fact, the connection is so deep that washing your hands can actually bolster feelings of moral purity. For women, who often have less rigid ideas about manly conduct, and for younger men, who grew up in an era of greater sexual freedom, the idea of an openly gay soldier sleeping in the next bunk is no longer viscerally or morally offensive. So congratulations, Congress, for overcoming immaturity and catching up with the rest of us.
Photograph of Sen. Susan Collins by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.