Don’t ask, don’t tell doesn’t exist today

Today, the U.S. military officially eliminates the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military. As a result, an estimated 14,000 homosexual servicemen and women can now openly acknowledge their sexual identity without fear of being dishonorably discharged.

And all branches of our armed forces can go about the business of defending our country without fear of suddenly finding they are incapable of engaging in combat missions or meeting their other responsibilities.

That’s because most men and women serving in the U.S. military have long known that some of their colleagues were gay or lesbian, and have accepted that fact with little objection.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been poor camouflage for most gay soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen already serving. But it has, unfortunately, cost the military a number of loyal, dedicated service members when some were brave enough to declare their sexual orientation.

Opposition to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been, to a great extent, generational, with much of the opposition coming from older or retired members of the military. A survey conducted by the Pentagon last year showed most active-duty servicemen and women anticipated few problems from openly gay and lesbian military personnel serving with them.

The military has been preparing for this day a long time, having given special training on the change to some 2.25 million service men and women.

“My hope, my expectation, my belief is that it will be pretty inconsequential,” said Gen. Carter Ham, co-chairman of a group that studied how to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

We expect the general’s prediction will be proved correct. Although formal ceremonies are scheduled today with officials from the Pentagon and White House to mark the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” all are saying that it will be business as usual for our military. Even groups that represent gay service members are reportedly planning subdued celebrations, and urging their members to remember their military responsibilities first.

There will, no doubt, be a few unfortunate instances of unwanted advances from members of the same sex, or of homosexuals being intimidated once they make their sexual orientation public. But both those actions are prohibited under military rules, and we trust any violators will be quickly prosecuted.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the military — and this country — will no longer have an official policy that openly encourages one group of its citizens to lie.

While the armed forces live by a code of conduct that prohibits lying in nearly all circumstances, for the past 18 years they have told gay and lesbian young men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country in the military: “We’ll accept you, but only if you lie about your sexual orientation.”

As of today, those lies are no longer necessary. And our country is better because of that change.


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