Sen. Susan Collins has taken an important step in advocating for the long overdue repeal of the federal policy banning gays from openly serving in the military. By asking the defense secretary to immediately release the results of a militarywide study of the consequences of a repeal, the senator hopes to alleviate some of her colleagues’ concerns about the policy change.
This removes a long-standing impediment to repealing the policy known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The unworkable policy was put in place by President Bill Clinton in 1993 when he balked at his campaign pledge to repeal outright a ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military. Instead, he came up with a policy to allow gays to serve in the military as long as they didn’t divulge their sexual orientation (don’t tell). Superiors were forbidden to ask about a soldier’s orientation.
Since the policy was instituted, more than 13,000 soldiers have been discharged when their homosexuality was revealed. Some had skills in short supply, such as knowing Arabic. Losing these soldiers weakens the military and wastes money, as replacements must be recruited and trained.
In September, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that the anti-gay policy violates Fifth Amendment due process and the First Amendment rights of homosexual soldiers. She later ordered the Pentagon to immediately stop enforcing the policy.
Congress has been hesitant to repeal the policy with many members saying they were waiting for the results of a Pentagon study. Sen. Collins was the only Republican member of the Armed Services Committee to vote for repeal, but she opposed a bill containing the repeal last month because Republican amendments were not allowed by the Senate Democratic leadership.
Although the report isn’t supposed to be officially released until next month, some of its contents have been revealed. According to a report in the Washington Post last week, the report found that the ban can be lifted with little disruption.
More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to 550,000 active-duty and reserve troops and their spouses said the effect of repealing the military’s ban on gays and lesbians in uniform would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, sources who had seen the report told the newspaper.
Based on this, Sen. Collins, along with independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, this week asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to speed release of the report. The report needs to be released earlier, the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary Gates on Monday, to alleviate their colleagues’ concerns about ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and because a defense authorization bill, which contains the repeal, needs to be passed during the lame duck session.
Secretary Gates should release the report immediately and Congress should repeal the ban.