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Originally published March 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 20, 2007 at 1:03 PM

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Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist

Don't lecture us on morals, general

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts, I do not believe the United...

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts, I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way."

— Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

In other words, it's wrong because it's wrong.

Boil Gen. Pace's controversial comments in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune down to their essence, and that's what you get. Bypass intellect, detour around critical reasoning, and there you are: wrong because it's wrong. No other explanation necessary.

That, says the general, is why he opposes repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He doesn't want homosexuals to serve openly — they already serve clandestinely — in the armed forces.

People like the general — in other words, bigots — often wrap their objections up in claims of fundamental right and wrong where sexual orientation is concerned: I have a moral objection to homosexuality, they will say, loftily.

I've always thought "visceral" would be a better and truer adjective. As in, a gut-level objection to people of the same sex engaging in physical or emotional intimacy.

If those who feel that objection would admit to being driven by instinct and not principle, I could at least respect their honesty. Frankly, it's not uncommon for heterosexual people to flinch at the idea of homosexual intimacy. But the problem is, that admission would cost gay haters the pretense of principle.

After all, to admit that a response is visceral is to admit you haven't thought it through. Ergo, frame it as a "moral" issue. As a practical matter, it comes out the same, but it sounds more high-minded. And never mind that it makes no sense.

I have never understood how a people — meaning individuals bonded by some racial, sexual, religious or geographical commonality — can be immoral. Is it immoral to be Jewish? Immoral to be male? Is it immoral to hail from Idaho?

How, then, can it be immoral to be gay?

At this point, of course, someone is frantically pointing to an obscure Old Testament passage as his or her authority for the immorality of homosexuality. Thing is, the Old Testament also requires the death penalty for disrespectful children, forbids the eating of meat cooked rare, and obligates the man who rapes a virgin to buy her and marry her.

I've seen no groundswell of support for those commands.

Morality, it has always seemed to me, has less to do with commonalities of existence than with how you treat other people. Do you lie to or about them? Do you steal from them? Do you cheat them? Do you walk by their suffering, oblivious? Do you, except in self defense, harm them physically or mentally?

The answers to those questions, I think, define morality more exactly than whether you're sharing a bed with someone who has the same sexual equipment you do.

That's why, four years into the Iraq debacle, there is painful irony in hearing the president's top military adviser give a lecture on morality. Team Bush misled the nation into war against the wrong enemy. It hospitalized wounded Americans in squalor and filth. It left the people we "liberated" without electricity, gasoline or medical services for months turning to years because of its failure to plan.

How moral is that?

And how moral is it for the chairman of the joint chiefs to insult soldiers who are still in harm's way, soldiers who have been wounded, soldiers who have died, because they do not love as he would choose?

The answer in two words: not very.

So the general will have to forgive me if I cannot take seriously his maundering on right and wrong. Where morality is concerned, his words serve only to make one thing clear:

He doesn't know the meaning of the word.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: lpitts@herald.com

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