Don't pursue: The impact of new rules on gays in the military

Saturday, March 27, 2010

THE "DON'T ask, don't tell" policy that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military has been an unworkable embarrassment since it became law in 1994. More than 13,000 able and needed service members have been drummed out of the armed forces not because of any dereliction of duty but because of who they are. New rules issued Thursday by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will make expelling gay men and lesbians much more difficult to do. He said they would provide "a greater measure of common sense and common decency." It's about time.

Anonymous complaints will be ignored under the new regime. Third parties who come forward to accuse soldiers of violating "don't ask, don't tell" will have to do so under oath. Confidential information, such as that shared with an attorney or medical professional, can't be used as evidence of a violation. The decision to open an investigation or recommend a discharge has been kicked higher up the chain of command, to a one-star general or an admiral. These rules are effective immediately and apply to cases that are currently open.

Mr. Gates's action is part of the march toward the full repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." It began in earnest last month when he and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed support for President Obama's push to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. They announced a series of Pentagon studies and reviews to get ready for the repeal of the statute by Congress. With more than 190 co-sponsors of a measure to do away with the ban and a dozen or so commitments to vote for the measure when it comes to the floor, Rep. Patrick J. Murphy (D-Pa.) is within striking distance of achieving a long-sought goal.

For gay men and lesbians to truly serve with distinction and honor, they must be allowed to do so openly. "Don't ask, don't tell" forces them to lie to their fellow service members, and to live fearful of discovery. It forces them to surrender a mission they willingly joined to defend this country and its ideals. Congress must repeal the ban. Until it does, Mr. Gates's new rules are an excellent interim step.

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