ColumnistsThe Straight Line

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Again

Last month, the House of Representatives took a major step toward ending discrimination in the military by attaching an end to don’t ask, don’t tell to the National Defense Authorization Bill. While the legislation doesn’t actually end don’t ask, don’t tell, it does require that it be repealed upon the completion of the Pentagon’s internal study (due Dec. 1, 2010) and once the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the President have certified that the repeal won’t adversely impact the armed services.

While many observers praised the House’s action, there are still many who are opposed to the change. Immediately following the vote, U.S. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that he would rather have completed the review of don’t ask, don’t tell before Congress voted on legislation on the matter.

Here’s my question for Admiral Mullen: What justification could you possibly have to deny a basic right to a large segment of the American people? Both American and world history demonstrate that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community have served honorably and faithfully in the military as far back as the Roman Empire. Our allies have no such discriminatory practices, and their men and women serve alongside Americans all over the world with no adverse impacts. How can an officer sworn to uphold honor and freedom actively promote forcing otherwise honorable servicemen and women to live a lie?

While I applaud the House for taking this step, I think it is also important to note that this fight is far from over. The way the legislation is written, the repeal is dependent upon the results of the review and the certification by Admiral Mullen, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and President Obama that its implementation will not adversely impact the military. Based upon various statements by both Mullen and Gates, I have a feeling that this process is going to be drawn out over a considerable period of time, unless the President and Congress are willing to exercise the political will to force the change.

In an address to troops worldwide on May 28, Secretary Gates stated: “It would repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but only after — I repeat, after — the ongoing Department of Defense high-level review is completed, and only after the president, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I all certify that we are ready to make this change without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness and recruiting and retention … Current law, policies, and regulations remain in place and we are obligated to abide by them as before.”

So Secretary Gates, in classic politico form, is talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, he has indicated his desire to see don’t ask, don’t tell repealed. On the other, he is basically coddling the bigots in uniform, explaining that nothing is going to happen until this certification occurs — which could be years after the review is completed.

Here’s a question for everyone to ponder: Why is it acceptable for the government of this nation to openly promote and enforce a policy of discrimination? Remember the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “a right delayed is a right denied.” The White House, Congress, and even the Pentagon, have admitted that don’t ask, don’t tell is an inherently discriminatory practice and goes against everything that America stands for in the world. There is no question about it, asking men and women to lie about their sexual identities and orientations is wrong.

Why, then, does there need to be a study and a certification that doing the right thing won’t have adverse impacts? Let me clue you into something here, Mr. Secretary: There will be adverse impacts. There will be bigots in uniform (as there are everywhere in society) who will argue against the change. They will cite unit morale and cohesion, possibly even recruiting and retention. So what? If these bigots don’t want to serve with openly gay members, give them the option to resign. There is no reason that the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell should be delayed.

For the members of Congress who supported this measure, I salute you. However, I will be watching to see if this was a compromise to score election year points. I expect every member of Congress to be watching the Pentagon and the White House like hawks to make sure that the law is followed and this ridiculous bit of discrimination is nestled into the pages of history — where it belongs.

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