WASHINGTON - Lawmakers called yesterday for an end to the Pentagon's ban on gays in the military, citing findings in a government report that the prohibition hurts recruiting and retention even as the war in Iraq strains the military's ability to maintain its troop strength.
A Government Accountability Office study, released Wednesday, found that since 1993, the Department of Defense had spent at least $191 million to recruit and train replacements for almost 10,000 service members discharged under the ban - including more than 300 with critical language skills. Yesterday, Rep. Martin T. Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, prepared to offer a bill that would end the Pentagon's 12-year-old policy, known as "don't ask, don't tell."
"The conventional justification for `don't ask, don't tell' has been that allowing gays to serve undermines military readiness," Meehan said. "Now we have the numbers to prove that the policy itself is undermining our military readiness."
The prohibition on gays in the military is a long-standing principle of military law. But in an effort to keep a campaign promise to lift the ban, President Clinton established "don't ask, don't tell" in early 1993. Under the policy, the military is not allowed to ask about sexual orientation and service members are not to reveal it. If the fact that they are gay becomes public, service members can be discharged.
Although Meehan's measure is unlikely to be approved under the Bush administration, the renewed challenge to the prohibition on gay service members marked the latest, and perhaps most creative, effort to improve the military's ability to fill its ranks as it strains to keep up troop strength for military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.