A Stalled Promise

Posted Oct. 04, 2009, at 5:05 p.m.

A glimmer of hope has appeared for an end to the policy that forces 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors to stay in the closet. An article in an official military journal urges repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” rule. Such a repeal is long overdue.

The new charge that the rule has been “a costly failure” was in the fall issue of the Joint Force Quarterly, a journal published by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has been reviewed by the staff of the present chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, now a key figure in a long struggle over the future of the rule.

Air Force Col. Om Prakash, who wrote the article, works in the office of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. He reported that “after a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly.” He concluded that, rather than re-examining all the long-argued pros and cons of the issue, “it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.”

That is exactly what Adm. Mullen is prepared to do, but he is waiting for a specific request from President Barack Obama, who made a campaign promise to let gays serve openly in the military but set no timetable. White House officials have said action has been put off until next year.

Much has changed since “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” was adopted as a compromise in 1993 after President Bill Clinton ran into a firestorm of opposition when he tried to carry out his campaign promise. His own chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Colin Powell, testified in favor of the ban. He now has called for a review of the policy. He told an interviewer in July that it was correct l6 years ago but that times had changed.

Another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, retired Gen. John M. Shlikashhvili, in a June 19 Washington Post article, took issue with some 1,000 retired military officers who want the ban kept in place. He said that Israel and Britain and 29 other nations had allowed gays to serve openly without any problems, despite early polls that predicted mass resignations.

Any move to abandon the rule would arouse vehement opposition among some in the military, the general public, and in Congress, even though polls show that the overall public mood has changed.

That probably explains why President Obama is moving cautiously and why recent repeal bills in the House and Senate have been stalled in committee.

In the meantime, gay and lesbian servicepeople must continue to hide, some 13,000 have been forced out, and, according to Gen. Shalikashvili, nearly 4,000 people leave voluntarily each year because of the ban, and more than 40,000 recruits might join if the ban were ended.

Maintaining the ban is costly, counterproductive and unfair.

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