Today marks the first congressional hearing on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 17 years. The repeal of this misguided policy, which calls for the discharge of members of the military who engage in “homosexual acts” or “demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual acts”, is long overdue.

If news reports are accurate, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, are to unveil the Pentagon’s plan for carrying out a repeal, which requires an act of Congress. In the interim, Gates is expected to announce that the Defense Department will not take action to discharge service members because their sexual orientation is revealed by third parties or jilted partners, one of the most onerous aspects of the law.

This very flawed and discriminatory policy has resulted in the discharge of 13,000 service members since 1994, at a cost of $290-500 million to discharge and recruit new military personnel. At a time when we are at two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military discharged almost 800 mission critical troops and at least 59 Arabic and 9 Farsi linguists.

All of this in the name of a prejudiced belief that being gay is incompatible with military service -- a belief that is at odds with public sentiment. Seventy-five percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military and 73 percent of military personnel are comfortable serving with gays and lesbians. We also can't forget that there are almost 65,000 gay Americans currently serving in active duty with honor and distinction who must conceal their identity.

Militaries of Australia, Israel, Great Britain and Canada have demonstrated that allowing gays to openly serve has had no effect on morale, enrollment or retention. It’s well overdue for Congress to do the same and to do it quickly.

By Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project Staff Attorney

 

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