After nearly 17 years, Congress finally held a public vetting of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in our nation’s military.
At the hour long Senate hearing on Tuesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has been critical of repealing DADT in the past, in a major shift said that what it all boils down to is “integrity.” Forcing our men and women to lie about their sexuality in order to serve, he reasoned, forces them to compromise their integrity. I would take this argument a step further: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell compromises the integrity of the entire military establishment and the flag under which it serves.
Under President Obama’s directive, Defense Secretary Gates announced that he will launch an investigation into the effects of DADT and the implications of its roll-back within the force. He estimated that the entire “study” would take a year. While the President’s commitment to repeal is laudable, we’ve studied this issue to death for the past two decades. It’s time to move forward with an elimination of this outdated policy.
We simply cannot afford to lose professional soldiers for reasons not directly related to his or her ability to carry out their assigned mission. In the last five years alone, the military has discharged 800 mission-critical troops and at least 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Indeed, there is growing consensus within military circles that the current practice of discharging linguists, doctors, nurses, mechanics, infantrymen, and intelligence analysts because of their sexuality detracts from military readiness.
What is more, female soldiers are being disproportionately affected by this backwards policy. While women make up only 15% of the armed forces, they accounted for roughly half of DADT related discharges in 2007. Experts say that the policy governing disclosure of one’s sexual orientation has often been used as a weapon against service members – particularly females.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen pledged to prepare the force for the roll-back of DADT. At the same time, Gates emphasized that is up to Congress to formally repeal the law. Legislative action may well be necessary, but in a bitterly partisan Congress and under the proposed plan for a year long internal study, it’s likely that the archaic policy will remain in place for the time being. In the meantime, careers will continue to hang in the balance; 66,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women will continue to serve under a cloud of secrecy and fear of discharge.
While Mr. Gates announcement on Tuesday represents a significant first step, much more is needed from both the Administration and Congress. A failed attempt to dismantle this discriminatory policy would be a blow to the integrity of Congress, the Administration, the American people and the values we all strive to uphold as a nation.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.