Even before a federal judge recently ruled that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is unconstitutional, it was obvious the unworkable rules had to go. Former President Bill Clinton pledged to reverse a ban on gays serving in the military, but created the foolish plan of allowing them to serve as long as they kept quiet. President Barack Obama pledged to end the policy, but then caved in to allow a yearlong study of how to make the change.
It is time for Congress to end the silliness and repeal the ban.
The Senate is close to doing so, but, as is so often the case these days, the issue has gotten tangled up in partisan — and local — politics.
A repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — still contingent upon the Pentagon saying it is ready to do so — is included in a $726 billion defense-spending bill, which is slated to be voted on in the Senate early this week. The bill is considered “must pass” legislation because it includes funding for military salaries and operations.
Senate Republicans are balking at the inclusion of nonmilitary provisions in the bill. In addition to the policy change on gay service members, it would change immigration rules to allow some illegal immigrants to gain citizenship by serving in the military and would end the prohibition on abortions at Defense Department hospitals. An amendment also seeks to end a practice that allows senators to secretly stall presidential nominations.
Sen. John McCain, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized the provisions as being “totally unrelated to national defense” last week. Democratic leaders overreached by including the immigration and abortion pieces, but changing the policies on gay service members is relevant to national defense — kicking gays out is a waste of military dollars and valuable training time — and is long overdue.
The immigration provision, which would allow some who were brought into the country illegally before they were 15 to gain citizenship by serving in the military or attending college, is clear pandering by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He hopes to curry favor with Hispanics in his home state of Nevada, where he faces a tough re-election challenge from Sharron Angle, who is backed by the tea party.
These provisions should be removed, but the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” must not be.
Sen. Susan Collins voted for the defense authorization bill, without Sen. Reid’s add-ons, in the Armed Services Committee in May. She was the only Republican on the committee to do so.
“Society has changed a great deal since President Clinton signed the current law … back in 1993,” she said this spring. “I agree with Adm. Michael Mullen, our nation’s highest ranking military official, that this law should be changed, but we should do so with care,” she added.
Repealing this law is a matter of fairness — a federal judge earlier this month ruled that the current policy violates gay soldiers’ due process and First Amendment rights — and military readiness.