Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

It’s time to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

credit: Sloane

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama announced that the military would work to eliminate the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prohibits openly gay Americans from serving in the military. President Obama’s decision to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not only remedy a long-standing wrong against gay Americans who want to serve their country, but will also improve the military’s strength.

President Clinton signed the bill into law in 1993. Clinton intended the policy as a compromise between gay rights advocates and conservatives. The policy prohibited commanders from asking about sexual orientation, but mandated that openly gay service members be expelled from the military.

Colin Powell, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, played a pivotal role in crafting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Powell claimed at the time that allowing openly gay Americans to serve in the military would undermine military morale and discipline.

Seventeen years later, American society has become dramatically more accepting of homosexuality. Three different states have openly gay representatives in Congress. Openly gay characters make regular appearances on primetime TV shows. Simply put, most Americans no longer believe that homosexuality should be tucked into the closet and ignored.

Top-ranking military brass have felt the winds of cultural change. General Mike Mullen, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared last week that he supported revoking “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the law is too rigid, forcing commanders to dismiss even the most qualified soldiers if they are found out. And nearly 20 years after he argued that openly gay service members would irreparably harm the military, Colin Powell has changed his tune, arguing that overturning the ban is “the right thing to do.”

Revoking the ban is not just the right thing to do. It will also strengthen our armed forces. Last year, the military dismissed 428 service members under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” after dismissing more than 600 service members in each of 2007 and 2008. According to the Center for American Progress, the military has kicked out more than 13,000 gay service members under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while up to 4,000 more leave voluntarily each year because of the policy. Commanders have been forced to dismiss linguists with critical skills in languages such as Farsi and Arabic.

Meanwhile, the military struggles to meet annual recruiting goals while it battles insurgents in Iraq and sends more soldiers to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. Dismissing capable soldiers, sailors and marines because of their sexual orientation while our country fights two wars is monumentally foolish.

A broad coalition of Americans support ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” According to a 2008 Washington Post-ABC poll, 75 percent of Americans support repealing the policy, including majorities of independents and Republicans.

Despite such widespread support, the fight to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will not be easy. Bigoted obstructionists have dug in their heels, dedicated to upholding a discriminatory and outdated policy.

Unfortunately, John McCain is among them. Senator McCain declared in 2006 that he would support revoking “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if “the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change this policy.'” Four years later, military leaders have done exactly that and apparently he has not listened to them.

McCain and other supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should mull the words of conservative idol and ex-Senator Barry Goldwater, a former major general in the Air Force Reserve.

“You don’t have to be straight to be in the military,” Goldwater said. “You just have to shoot straight.”

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