Congress now has heard from the military — from its members through a much-anticipated survey and its leaders in person — and the message is clear: It is time to repeal the policy that bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed services.
As a repeal of the policy known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been discussed in Congress in recent weeks, many members said they wouldn’t make a decision until a report on the issue is completed by the Pentagon. That report was made public last week.
As part of its 10-month review, the Pentagon sent surveys to 115,000 troops and 44,200 military spouses. A study group also visited military bases and held town hall-style meetings.
The survey found that 50 to 55 percent of service members thought repeal would have mixed or no effect. Between 15 and 20 percent said repeal would have a positive effect and about 30 percent said it would have a negative effect.
“The findings suggest that for large segments of the military, repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would not be the traumatic change that many had feared and predicted,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said when the report was released.
He has told lawmakers repeatedly that it is better for them to make the policy change than wait for further court action. This fall a federal judge ruled that the policy was unconstitutional and ordered the military to stop enforcing it.
Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a more personal perspective. “I’ve been serving with gays and lesbians my whole career,” he told the panel. “I went to war with them aboard a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam. I knew they were there. They knew I knew it. We never missed a mission, never failed to deliver ordnance on target.”
He then turned practical: “Should repeal occur, some soldiers and Marines may want separate shower facilities. Some may ask for different berthing. Some may even quit the service. We’ll deal with that.”
This is the right order. Rather than allowing concerns to delay repeal (the heads of the Army and Marine Corps argued for delay until the U.S. was not at war, which could be decades from now), Congress should repeal the unconstitutional policy and then work on ways to minimize any negative consequences.
Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Armed Services Committee, voted in committee to repeal the policy but voted against a bill to do this several weeks ago because of how the bill was handled.
“After hearing powerful testimony from Secretary of Defense Gates and [Chairman of the] Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and reviewing the results of the Pentagon report, I remain convinced that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy should be repealed,” she said in a statement Friday.
Most important, she said: “Like our closest allies, the United States’ Armed Forces should welcome the service of any qualified individual who is willing and capable of serving our country.”
Her Senate colleagues should vote to ensure the U.S. military follows this standard.