Let gays serve openly

The president, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon’s top leaders favor repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. As this week’s release of a 10-month survey revealed, more than two-thirds of U.S. troops have said they do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. A federal judge has ordered the Pentagon to stop enforcing the policy, calling it unconstitutional.

The American public largely has made up its mind, too. Recent surveys indicate that between 58 and 70 percent of Americans believe it’s time for “don’t ask, don’t tell” to go.

Plus, the United States is conducting two overseas military campaigns. It cannot afford to continue a discriminatory policy that has forced the discharge of thousands of troops with valuable skills.

And as Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued persuasively this week, if the Senate doesn’t vote to end the policy as soon as possible, the courts will — “by far the most disruptive and damaging scenario I can imagine, and the one most hazardous to military morale, readiness and battlefield performance,” Gates said. He advocated that “this change come via legislative means” and “a well-prepared and well-considered implementation. Above all, a process that carries the imprimatur of the elected representatives of the people of the United States.”

Those still worried about the change’s implementation should be reassured by Gates’ measured approach, especially for ground combat units. Then there are the experiences of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, which have allowed gay soldiers to serve openly for years without significant problems.

As Gates said, “the key to success, as with most things military, is training, education and, above all, strong and principled leadership up and down the chain of command.”

So far, the survey’s long-awaited results appear to be doing little to soften GOP opposition to repeal, though. The Kansas Republicans in Congress, outgoing and incoming, seem likely to remain among the dwindling defenders of the policy.

If the opponents of repeal don’t want to listen to Gates, they should at least try to hear the voices of the gays and lesbians estimated to make up 3 to 4 percent of the current military. In various anonymous quotes in the new study, they provide a good insight into what a repeal would mean, from simple things such as putting their loved ones’ pictures on their desks to much more:

“I think a lot of people think there is going to be this big ‘outing’ and people flaunting their gayness, but they forget that we’re in the military. That stuff isn’t supposed to be done during duty hours, regardless if you’re gay/straight,” said one service member.

Another comment: “I doubt I would run down the street yelling ‘I’m out.’ But it would take a knife out of my back I have had for a long time. You have no idea what it is like to have to serve in silence.”

Enough. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., should bring “don’t ask, don’t tell” to another Senate vote without further delay, and Republicans should help shape the way the policy meets its end. To do otherwise is to continue to endorse a policy that requires U.S. troops to live a lie.