Don't Ask, Just Repeal

Our View: Md. Delegation Should Work Harder To End Ban On Gays In The Military

July 12, 2009

Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, an Iraq war veteran, is making a push this summer for a congressional repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Even back in 1993, when President Bill Clinton first proposed this artless dodge, a majority of Americans favored letting gays serve openly. Sixteen years later, the numbers are overwhelming; a CNN/Opinion Research poll in December found 81 percent of Americans now share that belief.

But not in Congress. Mr. Murphy has about 160 co-sponsors, almost all of them Democrats. Unless he picks up more support, that's not going to be enough.

The Maryland delegation's stance so far is indicative of the uphill battle he may face. In spite of a fairly liberal electorate, only half of the House delegation has signed on to the bill: Reps. Elijah Cummings, Donna Edwards, John Sarbanes and Chris Van Hollen. That leaves four, including three Democrats, on the sidelines: Democratic Reps. Steny Hoyer, Frank Kratovil and Dutch Ruppersberger and Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. (For what it's worth, both Maryland senators, Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, favor a repeal.)

A group of Iraq war veterans is touring the country this summer in hopes of pressuring key congressional representatives to support the repeal. Led by Jarrod Chlapowski, an openly gay veteran, the Voices of Honor: A Generation under Don't Ask, Don't Tell tour has 10 stops scheduled so far, though none yet in Maryland. Mr. Chlapowski joined the Army out of high school and realized in the military that he was gay. He told a few fellow soldiers. At first, they were shocked, but in the end, he says, it was no big deal.

Even those who hadn't had without much contact with gays had grown up watching Will & Grace. The concept wasn't foreign to them. Mr. Chlapowski made it to the end of his tour without his sexuality ever being an issue.

But many others have not been so lucky. Since "don't ask" was enacted, 13,000 service members have been kicked out because of it. That's more than half a surge in Afghanistan worth of willing troops thrown away for no reason. And then there are soldiers like Mr. Chlapowski who chose not to re-enlist because of the paranoia the policy causes.

"We can't afford to lose one single member of our military," Mr. Cummings says. "The population overwhelmingly has no problem with this. We need to get to the point where our military reflects our society."

The idea that openly serving gays would ruin military cohesion was wrong in 1993. Today, it's laughable. Maryland's representatives should be taking a more active stand to reverse this policy.

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