This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
So much for promoting good order and discipline. The longer the military’s indefensible “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy remains on the books, the more chaos it creates.
Just consider the past week’s developments:
• A federal judge ordered the military to immediately stop enforcing its ban on openly gay troops.
• When the judge didn’t back down, the Obama administration appealed to a higher court, asking for an immediate restoration of the policy.
• Meanwhile, the Pentagon told recruiters that they could accept openly gay and lesbian recruits.
• Recruiters were also asked to advise recruits that enlistment now is no guarantee of future service since the ban on gays could be reinstated at any time.
• Late Wednesday, a federal appeals court did just that, staying the injunction against don’t ask, don’t tell – but only temporarily.
What’s a potential recruit or already enlisted service member to do? Stay closeted, gay rights groups say.
“The bottom line: If you come out now, it can be used against you in the future by the Pentagon,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
What a mess. Such piecemeal dismantling of the 17-year-old federal policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve as long as they – and others – keep their mouths shut is a maddening and ultimately irresponsible way to make progress.
The Obama administration wants to end the policy, but says it doesn’t have the authority to act unilaterally. So the Justice Department is left with little choice but to defend an increasingly unpopular and unjustified mandate, while the military awaits its latest orders from the courts.
Last month, word was that the military could continue to discharge openly gay members, provided it could prove an adverse affect to troop morale or readiness. This month: Don’t ask, but don’t kick anyone out for telling either.
The slow and fitful devolution undermines the military’s ability to enforce rules consistency – and, in turn, hurts the very thing the policy was meant to protect: unit cohesion.
Congress created don’t ask, don’t tell, and it should be the one to kill it. Compromise legislation passed by the House last May would have done just that in due time. It set a clear direction for military policy while honoring the Pentagon’s need to plan for the transition.
The Senate has yet to sign on. If this week’s spectacle doesn’t convince senators that they do troops no favors by dragging out the demise of don’t ask, don’t tell, nothing will.