Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave Congress unnecessary cover Tuesday when he suggested he needed a year to study the impact of repealing the 1993 law that bars those who are openly gay from serving in the military. But Congress should not wait to heed President Barack Obama's call to repeal this relic of discrimination. As Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, repealing the policy is a matter of integrity for the military.
In the 16 years since "Don't ask, don't tell" passed, more than 13,000 gays and lesbians have been ousted from the military. That includes dozens of Arabic and Farsi linguists and other highly trained specialists the military needs to be effective. Some estimates are that as many as 66,000 homosexuals are serving in the military today, putting their lives at risk to protect fellow citizens. They just have to lie about who they are.
Canada, Israel, Britain and Australia allow homosexuals to serve openly with no consequences to unit cohesion, readiness, recruitment or retention. The U.S. military conducts joint operations with some of these armies in Afghanistan without the sexual orientation of foreign troops or officers impacting missions. The American public has become much more accepting of homosexuality since 1993. "Don't ask, don't tell" is causing the military to lose trained and loyal personnel due to the lingering prejudice of a dwindling number of people.
Now the Joint Chiefs chairman has cast the debate as one of military honor, adding political muscle to those in Congress pushing for change. A bill in the House to repeal the law has 187 co-sponsors, and Obama said in his State of the Union address that it would be a priority this year.
Gates seems to want Congress to wait to repeal the law until his high-level working group has had the chance to study the issue and make recommendations on needed changes to departmental regulations and how to manage and mitigate any impacts. But policy sometimes cannot wait for the perfect ducks-in-a-row moment, particularly when it pertains to discriminating against hard-working, loyal Americans. Congress should act now and allow time for the military to make the adjustment. But it should act.