On Saturday night, President Barack Obama will be the keynote speaker at a dinner sponsored by the Human Rights Network, a gay-rights organization. It would be a great time to announce a dishonorable discharge for the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which has governed the lives of gay and lesbian members of the military since 1993.
The best case for dumping this odious compromise between President Bill Clinton and military brass comes from the military itself. Writing for an upcoming edition of the Pentagon’s scholarly publication, Joint Force Quarterly, Col. Om Prakash, who works for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, wrote: “After a careful examination, there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly. Based on this research, it is not time for the administration to re-examine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.”
Prakash’s essay is based on a study by the National Defense University, and it demolishes the emotional arguments for forcing gay and lesbian soldiers to maintain secret lives. The policy has forced out about 12,500 service members. Many of them had specialized skills the military is sorely lacking. Others had sterling service records, with a prime example being former Air Force Maj. Margaret Witt, a decorated Spokane flight nurse.
A policy designed to protect morale has instead undermined it.
The military has long offered opportunities to society’s underdogs. Under President Harry Truman, it was the first federal institution to desegregate. As a result, many African-Americans got better treatment in the military than in their hometowns. But on the issue of homosexuality, irrational fear has overwhelmed common sense, so a sad tradition of persecution and discrimination has taken hold.
Australia, Canada, Israel and Britain have let openly gay and lesbian people serve in the military without suffering hits to readiness or morale. There’s no reason the United States cannot do the same. Polls show a dramatic shift in Americans’ attitudes, with 75 percent in favor of openness, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last summer.
Obama has said he wants the Pentagon to undertake a study. Col. Prakash did just that. The administration’s reaction to the study has been vaguely supportive and strongly equivocal. Yes, there are important items on the nation’s agenda, but none of them carries the overwhelming support of ending this discrimination.
Announcing that Saturday would be long overdue.