From the Columbus Dispatch…
Careful preparation needed as military lifts ban on gays
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Now that Congress has repealed the Clinton-era 'don't ask, don't tell' policy under which gays were ejected from the military if their sexual orientation became known, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is wise to declare that the Pentagon will 'proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully.'
Chances are, in a few years, U.S. military and civilians alike will puzzle over the fact that people ever were in a tizzy over gay men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces.
But the morale and readiness of the nation's military forces are nothing to be left to chance, particularly when those forces are stretched thin with two difficult military operations.
An eight-month study involving more than 115,000 military personnel showed that 70 percent believe ending "don't ask, don't tell" will have a positive effect or no effect on the services.
That is reassuring and reflects the fact that objections to homosexuality are dissipating steadily in American society. But among combat units only, 58 percent of Marines and 48 percent of Army members think ending the policy will have negative consequences. This concern among this crucial group of service members suggests that the change should be accompanied by some education and evaluation, and that takes time.
If the first few months of repeal go smoothly, perhaps the change won't require the year-long period that military brass have estimated. But leaders should take as much time as is required to ensure that no damage is being done. The Pentagon needn't impose any arbitrary delay, but simply should take the time required to be sure that the change isn't disruptive.
Ending "don't ask, don't tell" should have another benefit for the military: Universities that have been in a 40-year standoff with the military, first over the Vietnam war and later in opposition to "don't ask, don't tell," should invite the military back, and the Defense Department should respond.
Contrary to popular belief, Harvard, Yale and other elite universities don't ban ROTC or military recruiters. The 1994 Solomon Amendment withdraws federal funding from colleges that ban either. But the military ended its presence at some Eastern universities amid the conflicts of the 1960s, and neither side has made much attempt to restore it.
This estrangement has discouraged some of the nation's most privileged and most capable young people from serving their country.
Gay people presumably have served since the nation's inception, and chances are that many of their comrades knew or thought that they were gay and considered it of little consequence.
Ending the prohibition on openly gay service members probably will have no lasting effect other than to make thousands more talented, dedicated Americans eligible for service.
But the Pentagon shouldn't leave that to chance.