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Should "don't ask, don't tell" Be Scrapped?

Under this 15-year-old policy, gays in the armed forces must keep their sexual orientation secret

Allowing gays to serve openly in the military would not pose insurmountable problems for the order and discipline of the armed forces—which is why we should end the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"Don't ask, don't tell" requires gay and lesbian service members to keep their sexual orientation secret. The military cannot ask questions about sexual orientation, but if service members reveal they are gay, they can be discharged.

The ban on gays openly serving in our armed forces is hurting a military that is already stretched thin. The military has discharged more than 11,000 people under the current policy, and in the process has lost more than 1,000 service members with "mission-critical skills," including 58 Arabic linguists.

A study at the U.C.L.A. School of Law found that lifting the ban could increase the number of active-duty personnel by more than 40,000. What's more, a commission recently concluded that the ban on gays has cost taxpayers $360 million—mostly to train replacement personnel for those discharged.

Finally, attitudes have changed since 1993 when "don't ask, don't tell" was formulated by the Clinton administration. In a 2006 poll, three quarters of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan said they are "personally comfortable" with gay people; a majority of those who knew someone gay in their unit said their presence had no negative impact on the unit's morale.

There is little reason left to believe that gays openly serving would harm the armed forces.

Bob Barr
Former Congressman (Republican of Georgia)

It can't be seriously argued that homosexuals across the board are ineffective soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines. And of course there are closeted gays in today's military who function just fine.

But the military would not be well-served by allowing openly gay people to serve, and that's why the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy should remain in place.

The policy, which was a compromise I helped formulate for President Bill Clinton, is based on a 1993 law that says "homosexuality is incompatible with military service."

The number of people discharged from the military for being gay is fairly low, about 800 annually in recent years. More than 80 percent of those are people who "told"—that is, revealed their own sexual orientation.

The military—like most colleges—has separate living quarters for men and women to protect their privacy. Just as female soldiers would be uncomfortable being forced to shower or undress with their male counterparts, it's unreasonable to require straight soldiers to shower or undress with openly gay members of the same sex. If members of the armed forces could go home when off duty and have privacy there, as those in civilian life do, there would be no serious argument against allowing open homosexuals in the military.

In general, those who enlist in the armed forces today are not as accepting of homosexuality as American society as a whole. Some soldiers would be reluctant to serve with openly gay troops. Ending "don't ask, don't tell" would surely have negative effects on military recruitment.

Charles Moskos
Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University