Thursday, February 24, 2005

Justice is on the march

While we've been fretting about the marriage "backlash", an equally important issue has seen a quietly rising tide of positive momentum. This could be the year that we see the end of the ban on gays in the military. In the background, we have growing acceptance of gay colleagues in society at large and reflected in the military. In a University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Poll last year, 50% of junior enlisted men agreed that gays should be allowed to serve openly; this compares to only 16% agreement in 1992 when Clinton raised national attention on the issue. In addition, the majority of our NATO allies and others (notably Britain, Canada, and Israel) have proved that gays can serve openly and effectively in the military. A study released last year showed that American soldiers served effectively in joint combat operations with gay British and Australian allies, with no impact to unit cohesion or morale. Add to that an undercurrent of awareness that military personnel are in increasingly short supply, as evidenced by extended tours of duty and unprecedented call-up of reserves, which makes more and more people start to question the rationality of discharging anybody who is able and willing to serve. This irrationality is especially evident when those being dismissed have served successfully and often with distinction. And the irrationality is sharply apparent when those being dismissed have special skills and training that are critical to the war on terror. It is increasingly clear that the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy is undermining national security.

Against this background, some promising developments. In December, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) filed a new lawsuit in federal court that promises to be the test case on gays in the military. The suit represents a dozen gay and lesbian service members, with 65 years of service and five dozen awards, medals, and commendations among them, including several who served in direct support of operations in the Middle East. All seek to be returned to service. Read the profiles of these twelve heroes.

Today, we receive a double-header in the news. A new GAO report identifies the cost of "Don't Ask Don't Tell": Since 1993 when the ban was formally adopted by Congress, over 10,000 service members have been discharged, including 800 specialists with training in areas identified as "critical", including 322 linguists trained in Arabic, Farsi, and Korean. The cost of recruiting and training replacements has been estimated at $191 million (which does not include the cost of processing the discharges), and many of the lost specialists are yet to be replaced. Talk about friendly fire! Meanwhile, over on the Hill, Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has announced plans to introduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act next week, which will repeal the ban and allow gays to serve openly. With the GAO cost figures, along with estimates that some 65,000 lesbians and gay men are currently serving, the connection between national security and dumping this "old chestnut" should be clear. Mainstream America may not be ready for gay marriages just yet, but for openly gay soldiers I believe the time has come.

[Disclosure: I am a longtime supporter of SLDN. They are an outstandingly focused, effective, and well-run operation, and I am proud to support them.]

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