SECRETARY OF Defense Dick Cheney says he doesn't have a problem if a high-level civilian in the Pentagon is gay -- and he shouldn't. That should be the standard for uniformed personnel, too -- yet all the armed forces continue to ban homosexuals in uniform. The Persian Gulf war exposed the absurdity of this policy. The services ought to give it up.
Cheney defended the traditional military position Sunday on "This Week with David Brinkley," but he didn't sound as though his heart was in it. He dismissed the fear that gays pose security risks as "a bit of an old chestnut." Yet, he said, "I don't think it's fundamentally wrong for us to make a distinction between civilian and military service." The policy that gays are OK as civilians but not in uniform is appropriate, he argued, because professional and private lives can't be fully separated when quarters must be shared aboard ship or in the field for months at a time.
The services were willing to postpone discharges for acknowledged gays in uniform when they were needed for Operation Desert Storm. Yet many have been discharged over the years, despite exemplary performance records, when their sexual orientation was discovered.
Of course this is discriminatory, but that's not the point. It's also shortsighted for the nation to forgo the services of men and women who can do -- and in many cases have done for years -- the work of soldiers. Uncle Sam needs them, too.