The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the federal Solomon Amendment in a unanimous decision, bringing a setback to equal opportunity.
The law, passed in 1996, requires universities to grant military recruiters full access to students despite university nondiscrimination policies, which bar recruiters who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The high court has now carved out an exception to those policies for the armed forces, overturning a 3rd U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), a coalition of law schools challenging Solomon on free speech grounds.
With or without the Solomon Amendment, however, the military should lead, and not follow, on issues of equal opportunity.
Our armed forces were far ahead of civilian society in welcoming the talents of African-Americans. Women, too, have long found opportunities in military job fields that were unavailable in other sectors.
We, as a nation, benefit from a diverse pool of talent. The military's commitment to equality has given us the strong leadership of Gen. Colin Powell, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy and other stellar, diverse commanders. Our military is stronger because those men and women were given the opportunity to serve.
The same chance should be given to gay and lesbian servicemembers.
Military leaders who value talent above discrimination should be first in line to call for repeal of the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. These leaders would be hard-pressed to find a single excuse for continuing to exclude gays that still stands up under scrutiny.
When gay discharges plummet during a time of war, we see firsthand that lesbian and gay service members do not undermine unit cohesion.
When gay soldiers like Robert Stout return from Iraq with a Purple Heart, we know they are just as brave as their straight colleagues.
And when Pentagon leaders cannot point to even one American soldier who was unable to serve with an openly gay allied soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan, the time has come to lift the ban on open service.
The arguments for welcoming lesbian and gay troops, however, are many.
As the Pentagon issues waivers to welcome convicted convicts, increases the maximum enlistment age and overlooks previous rules on physical fitness and academic achievement, it seems absurd to turn away well-qualified gay Americans who are anxious to serve.
A commitment to diversity has its national security benefits. A fighting force that reflects the people it serves sends a strong message to our neighbors around the world that America doesn't just talk the talk on free expression and equality -- we walk it, too.
The Supreme Court did not consider the constitutionality of "don't ask, don't tell" in reviewing the Solomon Amendment. That case will come another day. But regardless of how legal Solomon may be, the underlying prejudice that led to its implementation remains un-American.
Our armed forces have benefited by embracing diversity before. It is time to lead, and not follow, on equal opportunity again.
Steve Ralls is director of communications for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national, nonprofit legal services, watchdog and policy organization dedicated to ending discrimination against and harassment of military personnel affected by "don't ask, don't tell" and related forms of intolerance. He can be reached at email@example.com.