Columns / Discourse / September 29, 2010

Voice of Reason: Abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

What if there were a rogue enemy agent in the Department of Defense who removed over 10,000 qualified servicemen and women from the military during times of war and compromised the military’s ability to do its job? He would likely be executed for treason. Such a threat to this country does exist, yet it is actually supported by key members of the U.S. military and Congress. I am referring, of course, to the military’s ban on openly gay service members, a policy commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The policy originated in response to the military’s former policy of actively searching for and discharging gay and lesbian service members. The Clinton Administration struck a compromise in 1994 that protected gays from investigation by military authorities (the “don’t ask” portion of the name) on the condition they also hid their homosexuality (the “don’t tell” portion). The policy survives to this day, even though three-fourths of Americans and an increasing number of military figures such as ex-Secretary of Defense Colin Powell oppose the policy. A repeal of the policy recently failed to pass the Senate. Every Republican and two Democrats voted against repeal.

It is unconscionable that these senators are perfectly happy to play politics at the risk of national security as well as civil rights. A study by Gary Gates of the University of California at Los Angeles Law School estimates that the U.S. military could have maintained an extra 4,000 troops each year had the policy been repealed back in 1994. For much of that period, the military was not meeting recruiting quotas and was offering waivers to high school dropouts, drug users and convicted felons in an attempt to fill their ranks.

Fifty-nine of those discharged during that period were Arabic linguists, a category that the armed services have a perpetually difficult time filling, owing to the extremely difficult nature of learning Arabic. Yet many in the Republican Party seem to be of the opinion we are better off with “straight” gang members toting M-16’s than with allowing gays to openly serve in our Armed Forces.

Many of those who opposed this policy point out that it could create awkward tensions in the barracks and hurt unit cohesion to have straight and gay service members sharing quarters. Nearly every other member of NATO, as well as other countries with effective militaries such as Russia and Israel, allow openly gay servicemen and have found no negative effects. Indeed, we are pushing for our NATO allies to contribute more to the fight in Afghanistan, putting us in the hypocritical situation of wanting British or German gays to fight for us but being unwilling to let ours do the same.

There is no compelling moral reason to support our current policies. Even if you believe that gay behavior is immoral, it strains the mind to think why that impairs fighting ability. As Barry Goldwater, no friend to liberal ideals, once aptly said, “You don’t need to be straight to shoot straight.” If a condition doesn’t hurt one’s ability to fight, there is no reason it should keep them out of the military, especially in a time of war.

Instead it seems Lady Gaga (who has donated large amounts of money to organizations fighting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) cares more about national security than the Republican Party. The absurdity of this situation should exemplify why this outdated policy needs to be repealed.

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