Military Chiefs Testify about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Caroline Cook

Throughout the week of Feb. 21, military service chiefs testified on Capitol Hill in the congressional debate whether to repeal the 17-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, banning openly gay people from serving in the military.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) restricts the US military from inquiring about the sexual orientations of their members. In addition, the law bars those who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual from military service. This policy is a compromise, resulting from President Bill Clinton’s 1993 attempt to remove the enduring ban on gays in the US military. Currently, the United States is the only country in NATO maintaining such a ban after the European Court of Human Rights declared it unlawful in the UK.

During his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama promised to abandon “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but hasn’t pressed the issue, disappointing gay, lesbian, and bisexual supporters. However, Obama says the policy unfairly punishes patriots who want to serve their country.

In support of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, some believe that it is sheer bigotry to deny those who want to join the army the opportunity to do so.

On the contrary, many defenders of the law worry that not all gay applicants will be driven to the military by a vocational calling. According to the International Debate Education Association, closeted homosexuals run the risk of blackmail, which could have implications for national security if they were privy to military secrets.

According to a February poll by The Christian Science Monitor, 68% of Democrats, 55% of Independents, and 41% of Republicans support the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation. In addition, 56% of voters in the House of Representatives support repeal and 56% of voters in Senate battleground states support repeal. However, divided lawmakers say that they want to hear from the military service chiefs, who are responsible for implementing any changes and responding to conflicts.

“The armed forces have always placed military effectiveness above individual needs,” said Rep. Gene Taylor, a conservative Democrat from Mississippi who says he is unconvinced that the ban should be lifted.

Reversing the US military policy on gays would require a congressional act, which would be a major upheaval for the military’s personnel policies. “This is one of the core concepts that has made the U.S. military one of the most effective combat systems in history,” said Taylor.

On the contrary, General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command said he supports the plan to move ahead cautiously. “I’m not sure that troops in the field care one way or the other about the sexual orientation of fellow service members, and I have served with gays and lesbians,” he said. “Skill matters more than sexual orientation.”

Petraeus and other military service chiefs will give their personal views on whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be repealed when they testify before Congress this spring.