Ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military is long overdue. So it is disappointing to hear military leaders say they need a year to study the issue and another year to implement the change.
What is there to study? Whether the ban has forced people with talents the military badly needs — such as Arabic translators — from the ranks? It has. Whether the military has needlessly spent money to replace soldiers and sailors forced from the ranks because of their sexual orientation? It has.
All these problems and others have been studied and documented. Now it is time for the ban to end and for the 65,000 gay and lesbian soldiers and sailors to be allowed to serve without having to stay in the closet.
In 1993, when then-President Bill Clinton proposed lifting the ban, the RAND National Defense Research Institute conducted an extensive study at the behest of the Pentagon. It looked at other countries’ military and U.S. police and fire department experiences with gay members. It concluded that sexual orientation was “not germane” to military service and found no scientific evidence that open homosexuals affect a unit’s cohesion and combat effectiveness.
To the situation at hand, it recommended that a change in policy should be “implemented immediately,” adding that “any sense of experimentation or uncertainty invites those opposed to change to continue to resist it.”
The time for resistance is over.
The review done during President Clinton’s tenure resulted in a change in policy rather than ending the ban on gays serving in the military. Called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the awkward compromise was meant to allow gays to serve — if they kept their sexual orientation secret. Since then, some 13,000 sailors and soldiers have been forced out of the military, and nearly 4,000 people leave voluntarily each year because of the ban, and more than 40,000 recruits might join if the ban is ended. These include men and women with skills sorely needed by U.S. troops.
Rather than come up with another unworkable compromise, the military and Congress — which must approve the policy change — need to simply move ahead with ending the ban. The military may need a few months to work out the details of implementing a policy that ends discrimination against gays and lesbians, but it doesn’t need a year or two of stalling. That would be a disservice to all soldiers and sailors, regardless of their orientation.