Congress held the first hearing last week on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy since it was enacted in 1993. As you may know the law, signed by President Clinton, was the compromise reached after attempts failed to end the ban on gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Readiness, led by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), heard powerful testimony from military personnel such as Fairfax County resident Captain Joan Darrah (Ret.), a former Naval Intelligence Officer who served over 29 years in the military and retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first American soldier to be seriously wounded in Iraq-both who also happen to be gay.
Opponents of allowing openly gay and lesbian soldiers to serve in the military argue that lifting the ban would cause irreparable harm to the military, crippling morale. That argument is rendered null; however, as 23 of the 26 NATO nations including our British, Israeli, and Australian allies allow gays and lesbians to openly serve–in many cases along side American troops on joint NATO operations.
It is the conduct of our soldiers by which they should be judged–not their sexual orientation. The military has rules in place under the U.S. Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to discipline and thus deter improper conduct. The UCMJ code has worked in deterring unbecoming conduct with the integration of women into the military. There is no reason to believe it won’t continue to function adequately when gays and lesbians are allowed to openly serve.
The costs of continuing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are heavy. In 2006, a Commission led by former Department of Defense Secretary William Perry estimated that the first decade of DADT cost the military $364 million to replace the 9,500 plus service members discharged under the ban. Those discharged included engineers, linguists and others with high demand specialties critical to our military’s mission–particularly hypocritical given our military is lowering standards across the board to meet annual recruiting goals.
This hearing could not have come sooner or at a better time. Last Wednesday is also the 60th anniversary of the integration of the military. Our military survived and prospered following that decision by President Truman. It’s a legacy of equality, a proud U.S. tradition that we should follow when considering an end to the ban on open service and the loss of more than a few good men and women.