Repeal the Gay Ban

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ARMY SGT. ROBERT Stout received a Purple Heart after an exploding grenade in Iraq last May left shrapnel in his face, arm and legs. He would like to remain in the military, and he said in an interview that he would reenlist were it not for the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But Sgt. Stout is through denying that he is gay, so he recently declared his sexual orientation to the Associated Press. Now he'll be lucky if he's allowed to serve out his tour, which ends in May, without being kicked out of the service. For under U.S. policy, even the most decorated and patriotic gay soldier is just a homosexual to be rooted out at the military's earliest convenience.

The military wastes a lot of money making sure that gay soldiers are either deeply closeted or ex-soldiers. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the services have spent $190 million recruiting and training replacements for gay service members kicked out during the past 10 years. More than 750 of the 9,488 men and women discharged from the military during that time, moreover, "held critical occupations"; many had training in languages important to the war on terrorism. The gay ban, in other words, is as self-defeating as it is demeaning to people who want to serve their country at a time of great need. It is long past time for it to go.

Last month, Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would repeal "don't ask, don't tell." It now has 72 co-sponsors, including three Republicans. The House leadership's commitment to the current policy makes quick passage improbable. Supporters are fighting at this stage for a hearing, which would help their cause, because there are no good arguments for keeping patriotic men and women out of honorable service because of their sexual orientation. There's no evidence that gay soldiers undermine military discipline or perform badly. American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan fight alongside allied forces that don't discriminate.

Yet as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) put it to the Miami Herald in explaining her decision to back the bill: "We investigate people. Bring them up on charges. Basically wreck their lives." These are "people who've signed up to serve our country. We ought to be thanking them." She's right. Who dares tell Sgt. Stout that he is unfit for service?


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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