Gays in the military

Sunday, November 14, 2010; 10:06 PM

THE LAST POSSIBLE rationale for maintaining the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy appears to have been pulverized.

The Post's Ed O'Keefe and Greg Jaffe report that 70 percent of respondents in a survey of more than 500,000 military personnel saw little risk in repealing the policy that prevents gay and lesbian service members from serving openly. A Pentagon task force studying repeal sent out the survey; its full report is expected by Dec. 1.

President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called for the elimination of "don't ask, don't tell." They must review a proposed rollback plan to ensure that it does not hurt morale, recruitment or troop readiness. But they cannot unilaterally adopt a new policy unless Congress votes to eliminate the shortsighted and discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" law. Some on Capitol Hill, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and some military brass have resisted, citing concerns about possible disruptions that could be particularly acute because of the country's involvement in two wars. The Pentagon's findings should allay those fears.

If the report does not convince them, legal developments in the courts should. A California federal judge struck down "don't ask, don't tell" as unconstitutional and ordered an immediate, global freeze on enforcement of the policy. The decision has since been put on hold to allow an appeals court to weigh the matter, but the court's action - and the chaos it could cause - should spur lawmakers to act. In a recent interview with "Nightline," Mr. Gates rightly warned that "having this struck down by the courts is the worst outcome, because it gives us no flexibility."

Time is running out. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to session this week but are likely to adjourn by Dec. 10. The task force need not wait until December to release its report and should make it available as soon as possible to allow lawmakers to fully digest the results. The House has already passed the defense spending bill that includes repeal, as has the Senate Armed Services Committee; the full Senate must still vote on the matter.

Procedural shenanigans by both parties stymied a vote this year in the Senate. A repeat of these obnoxious tactics should be avoided. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) should allow both sides of the aisle to offer amendments to the defense spending bill; his refusal to do so earlier all but guaranteed a stalemate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should embrace such an offer; he essentially suggested this approach when the bill was last considered but was rebuffed.

If lawmakers fail to act, hard-won progress would be lost and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would have to be taken up from scratch by the new Congress.

As senators wrangle over the finer points of parliamentary procedure and joust for political gain, gay men and women risk life and limb in defense of their country.

The overwhelming majority of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines seem not to care about the sexual orientation of their fellow service members. Lawmakers should respect their judgment and follow their lead.

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