Since passage of the 1993 law establishing "don't ask, don't tell," about 12,500 gay men and lesbians have seen their military careers destroyed. Thankfully, there is growing recognition, even within military ranks, that the policy has handicapped the country's military readiness. Joining the call to repeal the outdated policy on Saturday was President Barack Obama, who told an audience at a large gay rights gala: "We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country." He's right.
Americans have come a long way in their thinking about gay men and women in the military. According to national polls, support for getting rid of "don't ask, don't tell" now commands large majorities, including 60 percent of weekly churchgoers and 58 percent of Republicans.
Military leaders who fought so hard to keep openly gay service members from their ranks during the Clinton administration are changing too. In the latest issue of Joint Force Quarterly, a military periodical, Air Force Col. Om Prakash writes that "don't ask, don't tell" has been "costly both in personnel and treasure." Prakash's well-researched essay says countries with militaries where gays serve openly — such as Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel — found that their decision to lift the ban on gays had "no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain."
Alternatively, the ban has led the U.S. military to discharge soldiers with highly sought skills, such as foreign language speakers. And who knows how many gay American men and women have chosen to forgo military service because they would have to hide who they are.
Obama failed on Saturday to offer a time line for abolishing the policy, probably mindful of his already full plate. But pushing for the law's repeal is not politically treacherous anymore, and the longer Obama and Congress wait, the more gay armed service members are put at risk of discovery and ouster. This continued discrimination does a dishonor to our nation. Obama should demand that Congress end it now.