The last lame excuse for retaining the cruel and dysfunctional "don’t ask, don’t tell" law has been debunked.
For years, White House officials and members of Congress have acknowledged fundamental flaws in the rule that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military only if they remain closeted. Yet, even as the uneven and irresponsible application of the policy has driven tens of thousands of able soldiers out of their units, and even as it has prevented tens of thousands of potential recruits from putting their skills to work in the service of their country, the politicians have said they could not do away with "don’t ask, don’t tell" until they knew whether doing so would harm "unit cohesion" within the branches of the military.
Now, however, the Pentagon officials charged with studying the impact of the law have concluded that repealing it will not harm military missions.
"We are both convinced that our military can do this even in this time of war," General Carter Ham and Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson wrote in the executive summary of the report from a Pentagon working group assigned to study the implications of repealing the ban.
(Read the full report here.)
The working group asked 400,000 service members for their opinions about gays and lesbians serving in the military. It received 115,000 responses. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday that a "strong majority" of the respondents had no objection to openly gay soldiers serving in military units.
How strong? A remarkable 70 percent of the respondents said that repealing DADT would have either a positive or, at worst, inconsequential effect on a unit’s ability to "work together and get the job done." Of the 69 percent of respondents who said that they had served with someone whom they believed to be lesbian, gay or bisexual, an overwhelming 92 percent stated that their unit’s ability to work together was very good, good, or neither good nor poor. "In general," noted Dr. Gary Gates, a distinguished scholar with UCLA’s Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, "the survey shows that fears associated with working with openly-LGB colleagues are much lower among those who have already done so."
Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the report, noting that the working group "surveyed our troops and their spouses, consulted proponents and opponents of repeal and examined military experience around the world [and] spoke with serving gays and lesbians" before reaching a set of recommendations that he termed "solid, defensible conclusions." Those conclusions form the argument for the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" and the elimination of barriers to out gays and lesbians serving in the military.
Defense Secretary Gates made it clear that the Pentagon now stands ready to make the change, saying that the Department of Defense and military commanders are ready to "minimize any negative impact on the cohesion or effectiveness" of combat units. Indeed, Gates is now calling on Congress to repeal the ban "before the end of this year" so an orderly transition can be made before the courts intervene.
So where do we stand:
Polling says the American people want to end discrimination in the military.
The Pentagon says that the troops are ready for the change, and that the military is prepared to implement it.
So why not schedule quick Congressional votes in response to President Obama’s request that a repeal bill be sent to him for signing before the end of the year?
Republicans in Congress have a new excuse.
They claim that hearings should be held before any action is taken. And they say there just is not enough time to pull those hearings together between now and the end of the lame-duck session.
"Using the last days of a lame duck Congress to hastily repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ would be highly irresponsible"” claimed Congressman Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican famed for his "you lie" heckling of President Obama’s address to Congress on healthcare who is now the the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee on military personnel.
California Congressman Buck McKeon, who will chair the Armed Services Committee when Republicans take charge of the chamber in January, echoed Wilson’s line, declaring that "Democratic leaders in Congress have indicated that they will try to rush to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in the waning days of the 111th Congress. This would be irresponsible."
That’s the can’t-walk-and-chew-gum at the same time excuse.
It’s not credible coming from members of Congress who regularly deal with a wide array of issues on the same day.
Let’s at least be honest now that the Pentagon study has been completed.
The only argument for maintaining discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military is the only real argument there has even been for discrimination against women, against people of color, against ethnic minorities: bigotry.
President Obama, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate and responsible Republicans should say as much. The time for studies, hearings and delaying tactics has passed. Secretary Gates is right: Congress should repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell" now.