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Politics & Current Affairs

The End of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?

It looks like it may finally be the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The policy, which dates back to 1993, was a Clintonian compromise meant to prevent gays serving in the military from being the subject of witch-hunts. It was supposed to allow them to continue to serve discreetly in the military while still not formally sanctioning homosexuality in the armed forces. But it has by no means ended persecution of gays in the military—thousands of service men and women have been discharged under the policy. And the gay community has never been happy with the idea they could not serve their country openly.

President Obama has been slow to keep his campaign promise to get rid of the policy. He had reportedly hoped to put it dealing with the issue off until the after the latest of a seemingly endless series of military studies of issue had been completed—until after the fall midterm elections, in other words. But with Congress finally forcing the issue, Obama has endorsed a compromise that could mean the end of the policy. And Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), who has been pushing for repeal, tells Greg Sargent he’s confident there are enough votes in Congress to pass the compromise.

The compromise would call for the repeal of the policy after the completion of the latest Pentagon study. As John Aravosis points out, the military leadership would still have to agree at that point that repeal would be “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.” The legislation, in other words, wouldn’t actually repeal the policy at all—and would put off any real decision until after the fall elections. But it would nevertheless put pressure on the military to drop the policy when the study is completed, and make it much harder for military leaders to keep kicking the can down the road. Rep. Murphy says that the military leadership is committed to dropping the policy anyway, telling Sargent that “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”

“The American people don’t want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) says. “And House Republicans will stand on that principle.” But whatever they feel about liberal political agendas, as Sargent points out, a large and steadily growing majority of Americans—and even of Republicans—support allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military. Service members have typically been more divided on the question. But a large number of generals and admirals argue that it is time to repeal the policy. Gen. John Shalikashvili, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy went into effect, has come in support of repeal, saying that he believes that “Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.” And in February, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told Congress he was “troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”


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