Last year, Congress passed and the President signed a bill to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. This week the Defense Department officially put an end to the practice. This is a long fought victory for the tens of thousands of military members, friends and families who have been affected by the ban on gays in the military, which originally began in 1948.
Enacted in 1993 as a reform of the existing ban, DADT continued a policy that in the last 18 years forced more than 14,000 gay and lesbian service men and women from military service, many in critical specialties during times of war. In the last six years alone, the military discharged over 800 mission-critical troops and at least 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists under DADT. Discharging crucial and highly-trained military specialists, such as linguists, doctors, nurses, mechanics, infantrymen, and intelligence analysts, solely because of their sexual orientation was a detriment to our nation’s military readiness.
In the past decade, public opinion dramatically shifted against the policy. According to a CNN poll conducted in November of 2010, 72 percent of the public favored repeal of DADT. Just as importantly, a Zogby International poll of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans found that 73 percent were personally comfortable around gays and lesbians, with one in four knowing that someone in their unit was gay. Among younger generations, the idea of gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military is a non-issue.
While popular opinion was clearly on the side of repeal, there remained many in Congress and within the military opposed to change. We began to see, however, a shift in attitudes among military brass. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in February of 2010, Admiral Mike Mullen, who had been critical of repealing DADT in the past, announced his shift in opinion. He emphasized that forcing our men and women to lie about their sexuality in order to serve undermines their moral character. For him, the presence of DADT was an obstacle to preserving the “integrity” of the military.
Former Defense Secretary Gates also signaled his support for repeal and announced a comprehensive review of the effect DADT was having on the services and the implications of its roll-back. The results predictably showed overwhelming support for repeal and that it would not undermine recruitment, retention, or unit cohesion. The results of this study took away many of the lingering excuses of DADT supporters, securing passage of repeal legislation by relatively comfortable margins in both the House and Senate.
I was proud to stand last year with members of Congress to vote down this wasteful, harmful policy. No longer will we subject the brave men and women who volunteer to serve our nation to a shameful vow of silence, asking people to lie about who they really are. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was wrong, it was un-American, and now it is history. Our nation and military are stronger as a result. To all who serve our nation at home and abroad, we are so proud of each and every one of you.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.