A Right Way to End Gay Ban

Posted Dec. 16, 2010, at 11:28 p.m.

Lawmakers who are squeamish about repealing the military’s ban on openly gay soldiers must consider that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will not be in force for much longer. So, the question is whether Congress acts to allow the Pentagon to change the policy in a systematic way or does nothing and allows a court to mandate a precipitous end to the ban.

The planned approach, of course, is a better option in terms of military readiness and the morale of all military members.

A federal judge this fall ruled that the policy was unconstitutional and the Pentagon must immediately stop enforcing it (the latter part is under appeal). Given this reality, members of Congress must seek the best way to prepare the military better to accommodate gay and lesbian soldiers, as well as their heterosexual counterparts.

A bill put together by Sen. Susan Collins, the only Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and first Republican in the chamber to support repeal, and Joe Lieberman offers this way forward.

After an attempt to include the repeal in a defense spending bill failed, the two senators began an effort to have a repeal bill stand on its own.

Such a bill was passed by the House on Wednesday, the second time that chamber has supported repeal. Now the Senate must do the same.

After the House vote, Sen. Olympia Snowe said she would support the repeal, but that the Senate needed to deal with tax and budget issues first. Now, only one more Republican vote may be needed to end a policy that requires members of the military to hide who they are and risk being discharged if someone else says they are gay.

From a practical perspective, a military study — which several members of Congress said they wanted to review before they decided how to vote — found that most soldiers and sailors didn’t think allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be a problem. Members of combat units and the Marine Corps were far more likely to say that a repeal of the ban would be problematic.

On Wednesday, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos said repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be a “distraction” that could have deadly consequences. When asked how this could happen, he said he didn’t know. This prompted Bill Press, who writes on The Hill’s pundits blog, to call for Gen. Amos’ firing for insubordination since Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and President Barack Obama said the ban should be repealed.

Secretary Gates this week again reiterated that a court-ordered repeal would be much worse than an orderly change mandated by Congress.

The Senate should follow Sen. Collins’ lead and end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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