Gay soldiers reconsidered

December 07, 2007

Abrigade of 28 retired generals and admirals, following the lead of a former chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, has joined the campaign to repeal the insult that forces gay military personnel to stay in the closet.

Congress should take its cue to quickly dispatch the infamous "don't ask, don't tell" policy that denies the most fundamental personal freedom to the men and women who are fighting to protect such freedoms for all other Americans.

Military leaders are often quoted anonymously by politicians who defend the policy as necessary to maintain unit cohesion, as though the presence of openly gay or lesbian soldiers, sailors or aviators would lead to some kind of frat-house fracas. But over the 14 years since the policy was adopted, many in the top brass have had a change of heart.

Most impressive was the about-face by retired Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, who served as joint chiefs chairman when the compromise was struck to end a formal ban on gays in the military as long as they kept their sexual orientation a secret. He went public early this year with his conclusion that the current generation of military personnel not only should accept gays and lesbians within their ranks but also needs them to maintain troop strength levels stretched thin by combat in the Middle East.

A letter sent to Congress last week by the group of retired military officials contended that adopting a new policy of equal treatment would not harm but help the morale of professional service personnel, who bridge a broad array of differences in race, gender, age and religion as well as sexual orientation.

Sen. John McCain, a former Navy pilot and now candidate for president, argued at a Republican debate last week that senior generals had told him "almost unanimously" that "don't ask, don't tell" is working.

Working for whom? Not for the soldiers unable to converse with their comrades without fear of letting some incriminating detail slip. Not for the military leaders who can't afford to discourage or turn away talented recruits.

This policy of pointless discrimination perhaps serves only cowards in Congress and demagogues on the campaign stump. Anyone who truly supports the troops will vote to treat all of them with the dignity and respect they deserve.

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