The Herald Bulletin

October 21, 2009

Editorial: Time to end don't ask, don't tell

The don’t ask, don’t tell policy has been a divisive aspect of military life since President Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1993. President Barack Obama has vowed to do away with the policy, which still could take some time but needs to be done.

The policy permits homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they keep quiet about their sexual orientation. The military is no longer allowed to ask if someone is homosexual. Upon a person’s revealing that he or she is gay, however, the military will move to discharge them.

In 2008, 619 men and women were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to The Associated Press. Women are more likely to be put out the service for being gay. According to CNN, 90 people were discharged from the Air Force in 2008 under don’t ask, don’t tell, and 56 were women. According to the California newspaper North County Times, 13,500 gay and lesbian service members have been forced out since 1994.

The AP reports the case of Julianne Sohn, who was discharged last year for her sexual orientation after a seven-month tour in Iraq. Sohn said she received a call from a lieutenant colonel who said she was under investigation for being a lesbian. Sohn had taken precautions not to let anyone know even though fellow soldiers wondered why she didn’t have a boyfriend.

This was ironic because a Pentagon spokeswoman, Cynthia Smith, told the AP that the defense department wouldn’t try and find out if women are discharged more than men under don’t ask, don’t tell because gays and lesbians cannot be investigated or punished as long as they keep their sexual orientation to themselves. Just like Sohn did, but she was discharged anyway.

Therein lies the fundamental flaw in the law. It can be used by the military to maintain the long-standing prejudice against gays (and women) in the service. Unless the law is reversed and gays are allowed to serve their country, the law will continually be used to discharge otherwise good soldiers instead of ignoring, as the law proscribes, their sexual orientation.

It’s true that the military uses discriminatory methods for people seeking to join, mostly because of mental or physical attributes that might hinder them from fulfilling military duties. There is no reason why gays and lesbians should be prevented from serving their country. In fact, denying them is a direct violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. This is a matter of civil rights.

Some Republican members of Congress have said that now is not the time to do away with don’t ask, don’t tell because there are wars being fought. This seems detrimental to the military because it drums out good soldiers when they are needed the most. Besides, for supporters of don’t ask, don’t tell, it’s never a good time to repeal a law they agree with.

In a country as large and diverse as the United States, there is no room for segregation. The Constitution, not to mention common sense, demands that gays and lesbians be free to serve their country in uniform.

In summary: The military policy against gays and lesbians is flawed, and they should be allowed to serve.