Don’t ask, don’t act
Celia Murray; Columnist
Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and officer who has served in Iraq and is fluent in Arabic, recently received notice from the military that he is about to be fired. Choi loves the armed forces. He served bravely under tough combat conditions in Iraq. His Arabic is excellent, and military commanders have repeatedly stated that such skills are greatly needed and sorely lacking.
So what’s the problem?
Choi is gay.
All of his unit mates know he is gay and they have been very supportive of him. Unfortunately for the country, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” dictates that he be fired. Fifteen years ago, President Clinton rolled out the policy which ultimately became known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Under this policy, the government would no longer ask military recruits if they were gay, and so long as military personnel didn’t tell anyone of their sexual preference and didn’t engage in
homosexual acts, they were free to serve. However, the ban on openly gay men and lesbians in uniform remained.
About 12,000 service members have been booted from the military since the law took effect, including dozens of Arabic speakers whose skills are particularly prized by the military since the advent of the war on terror. While the military command still opposes openly gay service members (General Jones recently told the Washington Post he’d advised the President to avoid the issue for now), most Americans don’t share that view. A December CNN poll found that 81 percent of respondents think openly gay people should be able to serve.
Perhaps the U.S. military should take a page from the Australians’ playbook. In 1992, the Australian Armed Forces changed their policy to allow openly gay men and women to serve. Eight years later, the Palm Center, a research institute of the University of California, released a study on the Australian experience which found “that the full lifting of the ban on gay service has not led to any identifiable negative effects on troop morale, combat effectiveness, recruitment, retention or other measures of military performance.”
With the mountain of issues piling up on the President’s plate right now, ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is simply not a priority, despite Candidate Obama’s pledge to do so. Instead of a time consuming and contentious fight with the right wing over the issue, the President can utilize one of a couple of options. He could invoke his authority under federal law (10 USC 12305) to retain any member of the military that he believes is essential to national security. Such an approach could undoubtedly be used to save Choi’s career, given his language skills. But that leaves many others out in the cold.
President Obama’s best option is to take advantage of a legal loophole. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” requires the military to fire anyone found to be gay or lesbian. But there is nothing requiring the military to make such a finding. The President could just order the military to stop investigating service members’ sexuality. An executive order would not get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but would take the critical step of suspending its implementation, hence rendering it effectively dead. Once people see gays and lesbians serving openly, legally and without problems, it will be much easier to get rid of the law at a later time. Mr. President – “Don’t Ask, Don’t Act.”
Celia Murray is a member of the Morgan County Democratic Party.
Printed in the May 28, 2009 Edition.