President Obama’s announcement of his intention to work with Congress and the military to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is the sort of change that should receive broad bipartisan support. The public backs such a change. A poll last year by the Washington Post/ABC news found that 75% of Americans supported the repeal. The same poll found that 64% of Republicans wanted to allow homosexuals to serve openly. This is now a mainstream opinion of both Democrats and Republicans.
President Truman’s landmark decision to integrate African-Americans into the military was particularly noteworthy because it led a transition in public opinion. Today, public opinion has already shifted, which makes this repeal even more overdue.
Many advocates of the repeal of this policy have strong moral and human rights arguments. Although such arguments are appealing, the stronger rationale for this repeal is simply that it will make America safer.
Even though the public is on board, there are some political leaders who still support the ban. John McCain, who once said that he would follow the advice of the military leadership regarding the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy has changed his tune and says that now is not the right time to change the policy because we are in the midst of two wars. House Minority Leader John Boehner said, “In the middle of two wars, and, and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?” This is where McCain and Boehner get it wrong. This is precisely the time to make such a change. Today our forces are stretched thin in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, at this time of tremendous need in the military we are kicking out brave soldiers simply because they admit openly to being gay.
The statistics are particularly disturbing. More than 13,500 service members have been fired since 1994. In the past five years 800 mission critical troops, including 59 Arabic and nine Farsi linguists have been dismissed. The current “don’t ask don’t tell” policy is putting our troops at greater risk and making it harder for them to accomplish their missions. The United States has spent $1.3 billion to conduct the investigations that led to the dismissal of homosexual service members. I can think of many alternative uses of that money that would have actually contributed to the safety of American citizens.
The story of Anthony Leverde, described in a recent Washington Post op-ed, is indicative of the absurdity of our current system. Leverde was an Air Force loadmaster with the 27th Airlift squadron in Iraq. He’s the guy that plans the placement of cargo and soldiers in an aircraft to make sure that it doesn’t come crashing to the ground – a pretty important job! In April 2008 the Air Force dismissed him when he revealed to his commander that he was gay. Soon after his honorable discharge the defense contractor KBR hired him and and eventually he found himself working in Afghanistan alongside many of the same soldiers that had previously served with him. Except this time he was working for a contractor that could care less if he was gay. Although his contract with KBR doubled his salary, he would have preferred to continue serving in the Air Force. A fellow soldier summed up the absurdity quite well when he remarked, “I can’t believe they are still discharging people for being gay. Don’t they know we need everyone we can get in this fight?”
Some opponents point out that repealing the ban will happen eventually, but now is not the right time to push the process forward. They will say that although we are losing some service members because of the ban, greater harm would come from repealing the ban in the midst of two wars. The argument is that unit cohesion could suffer, putting more soldiers at risk.
If there was data to support this argument it might be a compelling reason to slow down the process. However, the experience of many other militaries that have integrated homosexual service members into their operations easily refutes this argument. These include allies such as Britain, Canada, and Israel. The experience of Britain is particularly noteworthy. Former General John Shalikashvili reported in an op-ed that after the British Ministry of Defense lifted its ban on gays in the military, it conducted several follow up studies to see if any harm had been done. The end conclusion: the transition had been a “solid achievement.” A Rand study of the U.S. military found that there was no correlation between a unit’s readiness and whether or not known gays serve in it. Although opponents may continue to argue that gays serving openly will damage our military, the data just doesn’t support that.
Repealing this ban is the right thing to do. Our soldiers’ lives are depending on it.