EDITORIAL: View on Gays in the Military: After 16 Years, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Deserves to Die
USA Today voices its opposition to DADT: "Beyond the pragmatic reasons to overturn the ban is this: The policy is simply wrong. It says that gay men and lesbians may serve their country — and even die for their country, as many have — only when they deny who they are. If the truth comes out, they're out, too. That is neither patriotic nor honorable."
Just days after he took office in 1993, President Clinton tried to deliver on a campaign promise to overturn the ban against gays in the military. He failed abysmally.
The military brass opposed him. The public opposed him. Congressional Republicans opposed him. Even some otherwise thoughtful senators from his own party shot him down. And the nation ended up stuck with the firestorm’s convoluted legacy — a compromise known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” that deftly combines pure prejudice with blatant hypocrisy. Recruits aren’t asked about sexual orientation (don’t ask) but are discharged if they engage in homosexual conduct or admit to being gay (don’t tell).
Now, 16 years later, the nation has another new Democratic president who vowed during his campaign to overturn this American embarrassment. Given the political history, the issue’s sensitivity and the crises President Obama has faced, it’s understandable that this was not his out-of-the-gate priority.
But six months into his presidency — when the nation is at war and the military remains overstretched — the time to move toward repeal is quickly arriving. If anything, the case against discrimination is stronger today than it was when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was enacted.
The country’s views of gay men and lesbians have changed drastically since 1993, when only 40% favored homosexuals serving openly in the military. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in May found that 69% of adults favor open service for gay men and lesbians — including 58% of self-described conservatives.
Some retired officers insist that lifting the ban on gays would undermine readiness. But if anything is hurting readiness, it’s this policy. From its creation in 1993 to 2007, the armed forces discharged more than 12,000 otherwise qualified men and women under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” They’ve included combat troops, code-breakers, medical and intelligence specialists, and translators fluent in critical languages such as Arabic. The military has spent millions in tax dollars to train their replacements.
No less an authority than retired Army general John Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued last month in The Washington Post that research “shows conclusively” that arguments for the gay ban are bunk. And Colin Powell, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993 opposed lifting the ban, said Sunday on CNN that “a lot has changed” and that the policy should be reviewed.
Some of the most convincing evidence comes from other nations — including Britain, Canada and Israel — that have lifted bans. Britain’s new policy has proved so successful that the military now actively recruits gays and offers partner benefits.
Ultimately, it will be up to Congress to right this wrong with a new law. A House measure to do so, with 150 sponsors, needs and deserves Obama’s vocal support this fall as Congress completes action on his top priorities, particularly a health care overhaul.
Beyond the pragmatic reasons to overturn the ban is this: The policy is simply wrong. It says that gay men and lesbians may serve their country — and even die for their country, as many have — only when they deny who they are. If the truth comes out, they’re out, too. That is neither patriotic nor honorable.