We’ve come a long way in the sixteen years since the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was adopted to deal with the question of gay and lesbian members of the military.
This time, advocacy for repeal did not come from any outside group; it came from the apex of the military establishment itself.
What a thrill it was to hear Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say these words to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape from being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”
He got to the heart of the matter. Not only do gay and lesbian service members have to use subterfuge to serve their country, they live in fear of being outed by a third party, who may be a rejected suitor.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates shared the podium with Admiral Mullen. He made it clear that he was acting on orders from his Commander in Chief. He said the decision was no longer a question of whether or not “don’t ask, don’t tell” will be repealed, but how.
The final decision, both men agreed, rests with the Congress.
Once again, the Senate appears to be divided on partisan lines. Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan has long supported this change.
Senator John McCain chastised the Secretary of Defense for “being clearly biased.
He said repeal was too much to ask of a military that is already fighting two wars.
He seems to have forgotten the position he had taken in 2006 when he said that the day the military leadership “comes to me and says ‘Senator, we ought to change this policy,’ then I think we ought to seriously consider changing it.”
That is exactly what happened. The military spoke loud and clear. If there was any doubt about where the military leadership stood, Colin Powell, who created “don’t ask, don’t tell,” as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced he fully supported Gates and Mullen.
The argument that letting gays and lesbians serve their country openly would weaken our defense has proven to be dead wrong. Some 13,000 soldiers have been dismissed as a result of the law, many of them valuable interpreters and experts.
Soldiers who risk their lives together must be able to trust and respect one another. A majority of Americans today agree with repealing “don’t ask don’t tell. Let us hope that John McCain, the son and grandson of four star admirals, will have the decency to recognize a good solider when he sees one, not by his or her sexual orientation, but by their willingness to serve their country.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.
Cross-posted on the Huffington Post.