This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.
At some point, gays will be able to serve openly in the U.S. military. The question is: Will this Congress act to make it happen?
If not, there’s a good chance the U.S. Supreme Court would ultimately force the issue. For the military’s sake, the legislative option is the better one. Policy made through the democratic process is almost always preferable to policy mandated by a court.
The new Pentagon study on gays in the military – which concludes that overturning the 17-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule will not have a long-lasting, widespread impact on effectiveness – greatly increases the likelihood that the court would find no rational basis for the policy.
A survey of 115,000 service members shows that 50 percent to 55 percent said repealing the policy would have a mixed effect or no effect at all; 15 percent to 20 percent said it would have a positive impact. Only 30 percent said ending “don’t ask” would have a negative effect.
Combat troops were the least supportive of overturning “don’t ask,” with 40 to 60 percent of Marines expressing doubts about repeal. But if the policy changes, the branch will surely fall in line. Indeed, top Marine officers have said that the Corps will lead the way.
The Pentagon study does at least two things: It gives ammunition to those who long have advocated for gays to be able to openly serve in the military as they already do in many other countries. And it gives cover to legislators who have been on the fence but leaning toward supporting an end to discrimination against gays in the military.
The House has already approved overturning “don’t ask” as part of a broader defense policy bill, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate – citing the need to wait for the study’s results.
Well, those results are in, and it’s time to allow everyone who serves in the military to exercise one of the most fundamental of American rights: to be themselves. “Don’t ask” requires them on a daily basis to conceal who they are and whom they consider family.
The vast majority of the military rank and file – as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff head Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates – see no reason for “don’t ask” to continue. “We spend a lot of time in the military talking about integrity and honor and values. Telling the truth is a pretty important value in that scale,” Gates said Tuesday.
The Senate should take its cue from the military and vote to allow gays to serve their nation openly. They have fought and died to preserve Americans’ rights, and they should be able to freely exercise them.
No one expects such a sea change to happen seamlessly. Even if Congress votes in the lame-duck session to overturn “don’t ask,” the military will need time to implement the change. But it rose to the task of desegregating the ranks when it was ordered to in 1948, and it will meet its next challenge as successfully.