Repeal the military's 'don't ask, don't tell'

Monday, February 1, 2010

PRESIDENT OBAMA has been clear about wanting the reversal of the prohibition on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. He said so during the campaign. He repeated it at a gay-pride event at the White House last June. He reiterated it at a gay rights organization's dinner in October. And he was unambiguous when he told the nation during his State of the Union address, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do." The ball is now in Congress's court.

Many gay men and lesbians want Mr. Obama to issue a stop-loss order that would prevent the Defense Department from discharging troops under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, nearly 14,000 members of the armed forces have been booted from the military. But such an executive order would be a temporary solution. The 16-year-old policy is a creature of Congress. Thus, it is Congress that must permanently right this wrong.

Mr. Obama has been doing everything he can on his end to lay the groundwork for the repeal. He has told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on more than one occasion that he wants "don't ask, don't tell" abolished. They've responded accordingly: On Tuesday, Mr. Gates and Mr. Mullen are scheduled to offer recommendations before the Senate Armed Services Committee on how to lift the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military.

Their testimony should give needed momentum to efforts already underway on Capitol Hill. Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.) has been wearing down the soles of his shoes for more than a year to secure sponsors for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. The Iraq war veteran now has 187 sponsors. He needs 218 votes to assure passage.

Advocates for gay men and lesbians and their allies should turn their focus from hammering Mr. Obama to flooding members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), with phone calls, e-mails and petitions supporting Mr. Murphy's bill to end "don't ask, don't tell." According to Gallup, 69 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of conservatives, favor repealing the law.

It's time for Congress to act.

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