One way to reduce this strain and make our country safer is to repeal the current ban, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevents gay service members from openly serving in our armed forces. That’s why I have joined other Senators in the introduction of legislation to repeal this ban. While our legislation would repeal the law this year, it also would ensure that the Pentagon continues its ongoing review to determine the best methods for implementing the repeal.
There are many compelling reasons to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Most Americans recognize that whether you’re flying a helicopter, fueling a tank, or firing a rifle, it doesn’t matter whether a service member is gay. The late Senator Barry Goldwater, himself a combat veteran of World War II, said it best when he remarked, “you don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.”
In the face of two wars and tough economic times, does it make any sense to spend millions of dollars training service members, only to kick them out of the military for reasons unrelated to their behavior or their job performance? I don’t think so. Yet when we need them most, Arabic linguists, fighter pilots, and combat veterans with critical experience have been discharged solely because their sexual orientation has been discovered.
Military leaders and a large majority of the American public agree that it is time to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In recent weeks, we saw Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen testify in support of repealing the law. Even a one-time advocate of the ban, former Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell, now argues that the ban no longer makes sense.
The experiences of our allies are instructive. Over 25 other nations – many of them now fighting alongside our troops – have proven that allowing gay troops to serve openly does not negatively impact military readiness. In fact, I believe that readiness is harmed more by the ban than by its repeal. Not only are we discharging experienced soldiers, we are causing others to become preoccupied with maintaining a secret identity.
A free society cannot have an effective military that fails to reflect its values, and one of our shared values is honesty. Some argue that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will hurt unit cohesion. But today we foster an environment where service members are forced to lie to each other, and that breaks one of the fundamental tenets of preserving unit cohesion – trust.
I know that our service members are professional enough to make room for a change in the law, particularly because the norms of discipline and good behavior have nothing to do with the mere status of someone’s sexual orientation. Make no mistake – if an individual service member’s behavior violates the military’s code of conduct, he or she should be subject to dismissal, regardless of his or her sexual orientation.
The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has support across the entire political spectrum, from conservatives to liberals. We can’t allow our debate of this issue to become partisan or ideological; instead, we must address what is best for our national security.
It’s time to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” so that we can give our military the very best opportunity to accomplish its mission. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am committed to fighting for that result.