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Gays, lesbians should be able to serve openly in the military

Monday, December 28, 2009; A14

SLOWLY BUT SURELY, the groundwork continues to be laid for the overdue demise of "don't ask, don't tell." The latest move came on Dec. 22 when Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and 95 House colleagues sent a letter to the Pentagon requesting statistics on troops discharged for violating the wrong-headed ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. They want everyone to see the effects of the policy on the military and the national defense. This has the added benefit of reminding Americans of the law's absurdity.

Since "don't ask, don't tell" was instituted in 1994, more than 13,500 members of the armed forces have been booted. According to the Moran letter, 730 mission-critical soldiers and more than 65 Arabic and Farsi linguists have been kicked out. How can it help U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan if those with critical skills are removed from service? Mr. Moran and his colleagues have asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to provide the total number of discharges in 2009 by Jan. 10. And they have asked him to give them monthly reports on service members discharged under "don't ask, don't tell," including their length of service, branch of the military and job specialty.

Meanwhile, one of the letter's signatories, Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.), continues the painstaking work of securing sponsors for a bill that would overturn "don't ask, don't tell." When we highlighted his efforts in July, he had 163 co-sponsors. Recently, he was up to 186, approaching the 218 votes needed for passage. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) last month told the Advocate, a gay and lesbian newsmagazine, that a measure to overturn the ban is likely to be attached to the must-pass Defense Department budget authorization bill next year. "Military issues are always done as part of the overall authorization bill," he said.

President Obama has been consistent in public speeches and in Oval Office meetings with Mr. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he wants to end the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. So do we and a majority of the American people. Gays and lesbians in the armed services should be able to help protect the country without fear or shame.

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