With the recent developments regarding the United States’ military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which effectively bans openly gay and lesbian citizens from serving in the military, it is an appropriate time to examine where the policy came from, where it currently stands, and the possibilities for its future.
Leading up to his 1992 presidential election victory, Bill Clinton promised to end the ban on gays and lesbians in the US military. However, once in office President Clinton encountered fierce resistance from Congress. During the Congressional debates, Dr. Gregory Herek, a respected social psychologist with over 15 years of research in topics of sexual orientation, spoke on the potential consequences of lifting the ban on gays and lesbians in the military. His ultimate conclusion was that “the research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters.” Despite these affirmations, President Clinton was unable to persuade congress, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was formed as a compromise. This was, at any rate, progress, because it allowed gay and lesbian troops to serve in the military, as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret.
Every year, a bill is used to decide the budget of the US Department of Defense, and the 2010 version includes an amendment that would eliminate the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law. This was voted on by the House of Representatives on May 27, and it passed on a 234-194 vote. The Senate Armed Forces Committee also voted on the bill, and it passed there with a 16-12 vote.
The biggest argument against passing the bill is that its potential effects on the military are unknown. The Pentagon is currently undergoing a review that was commissioned after President Obama’s State of the Union Address, where he discussed his desire to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The goal of the review is to determine whether or not the repeal would affect the “military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruitment and retention,” and to offer strategies on how to implement the law if it was passed. The results of this review are not due until December, so many Representatives who were not in favor of repeal said that they were reluctant to agree to the bill without first knowing the results of the Pentagon review.
What is known about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is there are many negative consequences. Apart from its obvious discriminatory nature, which can alienate troops and force them to lie, it is very expensive. A 2006 study showed that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has cost the US over $363 million dollars in investigations and training replacements. Over 13,000 people have been kicked out of the military since 1993 due to their sexual orientation, which includes troops with critical skills such as Arabic linguists, fighter pilots and doctors, whose skills are invaluable during a time in which the US is involved in two wars. There are over thirty countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, including Israel, England, Canada, Australia, and Spain.
There are still many obstacles in the way before the repealing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can be passed. The next step is that the Senate must vote on the bill, which could occur this summer. If it were to pass in the Senate, the president, the defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs of Staff all must sign off on it as well. This might be a very significant obstacle because President Obama has threatened to veto the bill because it contains money for defense projects he deems wasteful.
Despite these obstacles, there is more hope than ever that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law will finally be eliminated. As Dr. Herek mentioned, there is absolutely nothing that prevents gays and lesbians from serving as well as heterosexuals. And with numerous examples of countries successfully embracing gays and lesbians into their militaries, isn’t it time that the United States, a self-professed powerful force for good in the world, did so as well? As someone close to me always says, there have always been gay and lesbian troops in the military, and I believe that it is long past due to finally allow them to serve their country openly and freely.