With military stretched thin, repeal ban on gays
January 11, 2007
Given President Bush's proposed "surge," our armed forces cannot afford to turn away qualified Americans who want to serve.
The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which has been in place since 1993, must be repealed. Public perceptions have changed since then, and our national security goals have shifted.
In 1993, only a slight majority of Americans favored allowing gays to serve openly. Today, Gallup reports that nearly 4 out of 5 Americans support open service. A strong majority of Republicans and regular churchgoers support a repeal of the ban, according to a May 2005 Boston Globe poll.
A majority of junior enlisted personnel told the Annenberg Survey in November 2004 that they are ready to serve with openly gay colleagues. American troops are serving alongside openly gay personnel from foreign militaries, as well as within our own CIA and FBI.
Earlier this month, retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili wrote an op-ed for The New York Times reversing his opposition to openly gay and lesbian members serving in the military.
A recent Zogby poll also found that U.S. troops are overwhelmingly comfortable with gays and lesbians. And it found that a majority of heterosexual troops already know -- or think they know -- someone in their unit who is gay.
In November, 14 senior retired military leaders asked the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the ban, arguing that it severely limits the military's ability to get its job done. Well-respected military leaders like Gen. Wesley Clark, Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, former West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman and Adm. John Hutson have also all said the time has come to revisit the law.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., a Vietnam War veteran and a leader on military issues in Congress, voted for the ban in 1993. Now he has changed his mind. Like him, many other legislators have "come out of the closet, so to speak," on this issue, he says. "A year ago, I would have been uncomfortable expressing my feelings."
During a time of war, our priorities should be toward national security, not personal insecurities.
C. Dixon Osburn is executive director of 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.