This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
The most fervent proponents of lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military worry a new compromise in Congress amounts to a whole lot of hurry up and wait.
But that is precisely the deal’s appeal.
The proposal strikes a delicate balance between setting a clear direction for military policy while honoring the Pentagon’s need for deliberate implementation. Legislation that gives the military breathing room is more likely to succeed than a summary congressional edict.
The White House and a small group of lawmakers struck the deal Monday. Their suggested compromise would repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – but the repeal would take effect only once the president and military leaders certified that it would not harm troop readiness, recruiting or retention.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave the legislation his endorsement, however grudgingly.
Gates is worried about sending a message to troops that their opinions on the matter don’t count. The Pentagon has just begun to survey members of the military about how it to let gays and lesbians serve openly without causing turmoil. Its report is due in December.
Gates’ concern is that of a leader who has to introduce and manage a reversal of a long-standing military policy. Change from within is often easier to digest than change from without.
But the end result of the military’s study is a foregone conclusion, or should be.
Gates wants the current ban lifted. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, does too. President Obama campaigned on getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Seventy-five percent of Americans are supportive.
The federal policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they keep their mouths shut – and others don’t out them – has outlived its usefulness. It replaced an outright ban and helped bridge a cultural shift in Americans’ tolerance of homosexuality, but now the policy has become a liability.
More than 11,000 service men and women have been discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell;” roughly 800 were mission-critical troops including crucial Arabic and Farsi linguists. The Government Accountability Office estimated in 2005 that policy had cost the military $190 million.
The military will find a way to allow gay and lesbian troops to continue serving alongside other troops because it can’t afford not to integrate them.
The compromise now before Congress serves the interests of both military commanders and the American public. It gives the services time to plan for the transition while reinforcing that change is inevitably coming.