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Will Logic and Public Opinion Defeat Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

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March 3, 2009

Yesterday, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to overturn the disastrous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, which bans LGBT people from serving openly in the military. While this legislation has been introduced previously, it stands a real chance of passage this time, given increased support in Congress and a new President who has already promised to repeal the policy during his administration.

Thank goodness, as it’s well past time for this wrong-headed ban to go away. Since its inception, DADT has demonstrably hurt American military readiness with no corresponding benefit. In an era where the U.S. military has been experiencing dire shortages of Arabic and Farsi speakers, dozens of otherwise qualified linguists have been discharged from service simply for being gay. In December, senior Army officials warned of a 30,000 troop shortage, yet nearly 10,000 troops have been discharged for being gay in the last ten years, according to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The arguments made by proponents of DADT in 1993 have since proven to be hogwash. The late Charles Moskos, one of DADT’s authors and the chief proponent of the argument that banning openly LGBT soldiers was needed for “unit cohesion,” later admitted in an interview that unit cohesion was a cover for his own fear of “being forced to shower with a gay.” Further, a study published in the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Review (PDF) found that there was no benefit or rational basis to the ban.

The difference between 2009 and 1994 is that the public has figured out just what a bad policy DADT is. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 75 percent of Americans now favor allowing LGBT soldiers to serve openly — including 64 percent of both Republicans and self-identified “conservatives.” That’s quite a change from 1993, when only 44 percent of Americans supported LGBT soldiers serving openly.

If Congress is listening to the voters who elected them, they’ll pass Rep. Tauscher’s bill and make Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell just one more bit of discriminatory history we’ve overcome on the path to full equality.

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