A mere five years ago, Air Force officer Kristin Goodwin could have been discharged from the military for engaging in a homosexual relationship or a same-sex marriage.

Yet last month, it was announced that Col. Goodwin has been nominated for promotion to brigadier general—and to be the next commandant of cadets at the U. S. Air Force Academy. Goodwin is a 1993 Academy graduate who openly identifies as homosexual and will be moving to Colorado Springs with her same-sex spouse and two children they are raising together. Her promotion and appointment, however, must be confirmed by the Senate.

When the news broke publicly in the Colorado Springs Independent, Mikey Weinstein, founder of the ironically titled “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” could hardly contain his glee that “the Air Force has chosen a gay female officer to be its next USAFA Commandant!” However, Weinstein also groused, “Should not USAFA and Senior Air Force leadership be touting this action as an historic milestone of jovian magnitude as well?”

Christians, however, may have legitimate concerns about what Goodwin’s appointment will mean for the future of religious liberty at the Academy. Since the repeal of the 1993 law against homosexuality in the military, the Air Force has seen incidents in which airmen have been punished for espousing the biblical view of human sexuality and marriage. Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk was relieved of duty by a commander who identifies as homosexual at Lackland Air Force Base for defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman (although after the intervention of pro-family groups, he received a commendation instead).

At the Air Force Academy itself, a cadet was recently ordered to erase a Bible verse written on a whiteboard that was provided to cadets in their dorms to write personal messages. Although Weinstein insisted that the words of the New Testament created a “hostile environment” for non-Christians, the flap merely encouraged more cadets to exercise their freedom of speech and religion by posting Bible verses on the whiteboards, and brought members of Congress down on the Academy for engaging in “viewpoint discrimination.” Can we expect more such discrimination under Goodwin’s leadership?

A few days after her appointment, however, the website God and Country (devoted to “Military Religious Freedom and Christian Service”) raised a different question:

BGen(S) Kristin Goodwin, soon to be the newest Commandant of Cadets at the US Air Force Academy, commissioned into the Air Force with the Academy Class of 1993.

The policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was instated in February of 1994. Anyone who entered the military prior to that date answered a question about homosexuality during the enlistment process. Those who answered in the affirmative were refused enlistment.

How was Col Goodwin — an open homosexual — able to enter the Air Force?

The author acknowledges that many may see this as a non-issue in the post-DADT military. But he does raise a question unique to Goodwin serving as commandant of cadets at the Academy—namely, the Academy’s honor code.

The code declares, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” God and Country notes that “cadets practically venerate the Honor Code (in spirit, if not in deed).”

The article speculates, “No doubt someone will work a hypothetical story into an early Philosophy class”:

It could make for a fascinating thought experiment.

Is it “wrong” to lie to enter the US military — or the Air Force, whose first core value is “integrity”?  Is it wrong to “live a lie” as a cadet under the Honor Code?

What if you eventually become a leader, a General, or the Commandant of Cadets — now charged with enforcing that standard of integrity and honor?

This was too much for Mikey Weinstein. He filed a 14-page complaint with the Air Force Inspector General, charging the Air Force officer he believes to be responsible for the God and Country website with several violations, such as “Disrespect Toward a Superior Commissioned Officer” and “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman.” (The author did not seem alarmed—noting that this is the 9th time Weinstein has filed such a complaint, to no effect.)

If anything, however, the God and Country post may have understated the concerns raised by Goodwin’s appointment to a position enforcing the Academy’s Honor Code.

That’s because the author seems to have fallen prey to the nearly universal misunderstanding of the difference between the 1993 law enacted by Congress and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy proposed by President Bill Clinton.

During his 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton had stated his intention to lift the long-standing ban on military service of those who identify as homosexual. Within days of his inauguration in January 1993, he announced moves to make good on that promise.

This triggered a firestorm of criticism, both from Congress and within the military. By the time his six-month deadline for drafting an executive order arrived, it was clear that Congress would not tolerate a complete removal of the policy against homosexuality.

So in July 1993, President Clinton proposed a compromise policy colloquially referred to as “don’t ask don’t tell.” As usually described by the media, “DADT” meant that the military would no longer inquire about the sexual orientation of service members (“don’t ask”), and therefore people with same-sex attractions could serve as long as they did not publicly identify themselves as homosexual (“don’t tell”).

However, Congress did not simply accept President Clinton’s proposed compromise. Instead, they continued to debate the issue, and ultimately enacted a statutory “Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces,” 10 U.S.C 654, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. President Clinton signed this into law on November 30, 1993.

The new law (which Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness retroactively dubbed the “Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993”) did not reflect the relatively laissez-faire attitude toward homosexuality that is usually associated with “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Instead, it explicitly restated the principles behind the existing policy of exclusion, declaring:

“The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.”

and

“The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

The law also declared flatly that “A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces” [emphasis added] if it was found:

(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts . . .

(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect . . .

(3) That the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.

However, Department of Defense regulations announced in December 1993 and codified in February 1994 bore more resemblance to the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy proposed in July than they did to the actual law enacted by Congress and signed by the president in November.

For example, the regulations stated, “Sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter, and homosexual orientation is not a bar to service entry or continued service unless manifested by homosexual conduct.” The law, however, says that “persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk.”

Note that “sexual orientation” is an umbrella term that, depending on the context, can refer to any one, or a combination, of three separate things—a person’s sexual attractions, their sexual conduct, and their self-identification.

By the time the 1993 law was repealed in December 2010 (and the repeal took effect in September 2011), the popular concept of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” had evolved to where people thought “you can be gay in the military”—in both attractions and behavior—as long as you were not “out of the closet” with your self-identification.

However, in 1993, the proposed DADT “compromise” allowed a focus on both self-identification and conduct. For example, a July 1993 newspaper article described it this way:

Conduct is the key. Even people who have admitted being gay have a chance, under the language of the policy, to stay in the military if they can prove they are celibate, have always been celibate and will remain celibate.

The actual law enacted by Congress, however, made clear that all three elements of a “homosexual orientation”—attractions, conduct, and self-identification—remained problematic for the military. The statement, “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity [emphasis added] or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk,” addresses sexual attractions. And both the conduct (“the member has engaged in . . . a homosexual act”) and the self-identification (“the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual”) remained grounds for separation from military service. This was the state of the law until September 2011.

In light of this, it should be clear that the issue involving Goodwin’s integrity is not just limited to how she may or may not have answered a question in 1993 or 1994. Whether she complied with federal law regarding eligibility for military service relates to both her sexual conduct and her sexual attractions at any point up until September 2011.

To be specific—if anyone at any point during Goodwin’s accession into the military and the repeal of the 1993 law in 2011, engaged in a homosexual act, they would have been in violation of the law (both the 1993 law and possibly the law against sodomy in the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and subject to separation from the military. If, during that time, a person experienced same-sex sexual attractions, it could be interpreted as “a propensity . . . to engage in homosexual acts.”

In my research on Goodwin’s career, I have not found any published evidence that she violated the law. Weinstein, citing a source he says spoke with Goodwin, declared in his complaint that Goodwin “relates that she did not become aware of her sexual orientation until well after DADT went into effect.”

However, there is nothing to prevent members of the Senate from raising these questions, as well as questions about her commitment to freedom of speech and religion for cadets. They may be crucial to determining whether she is suitable for promotion, or fit to command the Air Force Academy—and, as God and Country pointed out, to oversee its honor code.